Ah, I love the smell of a revenge win in the morning. A night after the Clippers bested the Portland Trail Blazers 104-100 in Portland, after being down 15 points in the third quarter, they are first place in the Western Conference. Currently being led by the hot hand of Tobias Harris (who is looking every bit the All-Star caliber forward the Clips wanted him to be) and a surrounding cast of scorers and defenders, the Clips are the surprise team of the NBA this season.
This was an interesting week for L.A. as they had had a brutal travel schedule (three away games) and one at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. This included an away back-to-back against the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards, the latter of which they looked exhausted and blew a big lead. However, the Clips closed this week out winning tough games over top Western Conference teams, Memphis and Portland, going 3-1 for the seven days and ending the week in first place out West.
After most in the NBA media circles projected them to be a 9-11 seed in the brutal Western Conference this season, the Clips are playing with chips on their shoulders and a toughness that is permeating throughout the Staples Center on any given night. This is a selfless team who enjoys playing with each other, and for each other. As Mike Scott said last week about the identity of this Clipper team, this is a squad that will punish you and be unforgiving about it. They are playing a new brand of ball in the mold of the old Memphis Grizzlies teams. Grit and Grind. It’s old fashioned compared to the new age NBA but it’s working to a tee. Let’s see if those in the leagues media circles agree.
This week: 4, Last week: 8
Notes: “The NBA might be a superstar league, but with one quarter of the season in the books, the superstar-less Clippers sit atop the NBA’s Western Conference. They picked up another couple of cardiac wins over the holiday weekend, over Memphis and at Portland. One way an egalitarian team can prosper in the NBA without a top-10 talent? On the defensive end, and the Clippers are holding opponents to a league-best .488 effective field goal percentage.”
This week: 2, Last week: 1
Notes: “The Clippers blew a 24-point lead (the second largest lead a team has had in a game it lost this season) in Washington on Tuesday, but came back from Thanksgiving to pick up two quality wins, even with Lou Williams shooting 7-for-27, over the weekend. They came back from eight points down with less than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter against Memphis on Friday and had a huge third quarter in Portland on Sunday. Tobias Harris had 15 of their 38 points in that third period and is one of three players - Stephen Curry and Nikola Vucevic are the others - averaging at least 20 points per game while shooting 50 percent or better from the field and 40 percent or better from 3-point range. The Clips’ schedule remains road-heavy for the next few weeks, with an interesting, four-game trip (through Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis) tipping off on Thursday.”
This week: 4, Last week: 7
Notes: “The Los Angeles Clippers are tied with the Warriors at the top of the West. Sunday’s come-from-behind win in Portland was just another reminder that as long as Doc Rivers has access to this full group, he can find a way to create wins.
Everybody knows their role with the Clippers and it lets everything come easy for them. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams can all go get 25 whenever needed, and they could all take a step back and be third fiddle for a night if that’s what the game calls for. Harris might not be viewed as a No. 1 option to most, but with the luxury of Williams coming off the bench and his acumen for closing out games, Harris doesn’t face the same pressures most top options face on the offensive end. In Portland on Sunday, Harris and Gallinari brought it home. WIlliams did the heavy lifting in Los Angeles on Friday to take care of the Grizzlies in overtime.
A loss like Tuesday’s to the Wizards, though, is a reminder why those who don’t have faith in this team yet might be justified. The Clippers jumped out to a huge lead against a team the world was expecting to collapse, but Rivers’s team walked out of the game with a seven-point defeat. Blown leads will always happen, and legs will always be shot on the second night of a back-to-back, but you’d like the Clippers to find just a bit more in the tank and get past Washington.
Either way, as November approaches its end, the Clippers are at the top of the West and they know exactly who they are across the board. They might not stay up there, but they do know what they did to get there.”
This week: 10, Last week: 6
Notes: “The Clips went 2-1 this week, losing inexplicably to the reeling Wizards on Tuesday by a final of 125-118. That defeat hurts L.A.’s resume, but the larger reason for the rankings drop has to do with a couple of deserving teams warranting a climb.
Los Angeles (11-6) continues to excel at three-point prevention; no team is better at limiting opponents’ attempts from the valuable corners. The tradeoff seems clear, as the Clippers rank among the bottom five in preventing shots at the rim. When you’re staying home on corner shooters and/or running them off the line at all times, you’re going to surrender some layups.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a capable starter in place of Avery Bradley, and the Clippers offense remains stellar. So if you’re searching for signs of trouble, don’t look there. Instead, note L.A. ranks last in the league in forcing turnovers and fouls entirely too much.
We’ve seen too many good signs to predict a collapse, but a modest correction on the defensive end is coming.”
Author Note: Just a heads up, Bleacher Report’s power rankings come out on a Friday. Their ranking this week did not take into account the wins over Memphis (5th in BR rankings) or Portland (6th).
This week: 9th, Last week: 12th
Notes: “The Clippers are the deepest team in the NBA. The Clippers bench is averaging 55.9 points per game. You’d expect some of that from all-time great sixth man Lou Williams, but it’s been the contribution from Montrezl Harrell that’s been the most surprising. The energetic Harrell is averaging 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game and ranks fifth in the NBA in true shooting percentage.”
This week: 5th, Last Week: 10th
Notes: “Just how good this team is will get tested over the next 10 games. Seven of those 10 contests are on the road, and the Clippers have posted just a 5-5 record away from Staples Center.... The biggest difference for the Clippers between the two work environments is they simply don’t defend well on the road this season. Everything on the defensive end suffers. They allow a higher effective field goal percentage, foul more often, force turnovers less, and they give up too many offensive rebounds. Nobody is expecting this Clippers team to stay in the top 4 in the West all season long. But the playoffs are a real possibility. They won’t be able to do that unless they can find a way to stop teams on the road.”