Thank god the month of December is over. The Clippers weathered a tough October-November schedule and were a top-three team before the 12th month dawned upon us. A difficult schedule turned brutal due to Lou Williams’ injury, as the Clippers took on multiple top Western Conference teams, leading to a 6-9 record for the month and slippage to the middle of the pack of West playoff contenders. Even with the disappointment of December, the Clippers are miles ahead of where most thought they would be at this juncture of the season, and are still firmly within reach of a solid playoff spot.
For the rest of the season, the Clippers have the fourth easiest schedule based on ESPN metrics. In the short term, they face a January slate that will see them play 10/15 games against teams currently at or below .500. Therefore, L.A. has a huge opportunity to get back to the top of the Western Conference and hopefully stay there.
The Clippers are still being led by a dynamic wing attack with Tobias Harris averaging 21 points and 8.1 rebounds a game (both career highs) and Danilo Gallinari averaging 19.6 points and 6.3 rebounds (also career highs). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has hit a bit of a rookie wall as of late, only averaging 7.2 points and 1.8 assists over his last five games, but is still contributing big time defensive minutes and averaging over 10 points a game for the season at 10.3. Lou Williams is officially back after missing four games in late December with a strained hamstring. He is averaging 22.1 points since returning to the lineup, and has provided major fourth quarter minutes in wins over the Lakers and Mavericks.
Of course I’d be remiss in not mentioning Montrezl Harrell, who had an up-and-down December, but in his last five games is averaging 17.6 points and 6.2 rebounds to go along with 1.6 steals and 1 block per contest. He and Lou along with the all-of-a-sudden hot-shooting Patrick Beverley (41.7 percent from three in December) spark the Clippers bench, and still lead the league in bench points per game with an average of 52.4.
Let’s see what the NBA media members view of the 21-16 Clippers is after the holidays.
This week: 11th, Last week: 11th
Notes: “The Clippers continue to exert maximum effort, but the results are waning a bit after their feel-good start. They’re a quintessentially league-average team that’s middle of the road in shooting, rebounding and turnover rate -- though superb at getting to the line. But there’s been some measurable slippage defensively. The Clippers rank 25th at defending the pick-and-roll, giving up 1.10 points per possession, according to Second Spectrum -- only the Knicks have been worse in December.”
This week: 12th, Last week: N/A
Notes: “The Clips keep coming up with surprising wins and are in the midst of eight out of 10 games at home. But the numbers suggest their record is inflated and due for some snap-back, as their current two-game skid indicates. The Clips rank 14th in net rating (1.2), and in December that number really sagged, to minus-4.4.”
This week: 9th, Last week: 10th
Notes: “The Clippers’ resolution: To play with confidence instead of a chip on their shoulder. I don’t know if it lasts into the playoffs; their Staples Center roommates do have LeBron James. But you can make a very, very good argument that the best Los Angeles team this season has been the Clippers, not the Lakers. Their depth is second-to-none in the NBA.”
This week: 11th, Last week: N/A
Notes: “The Clippers have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises this season. Some pundits predicted that Los Angeles might fire head coach Doc Rivers and commit to a rebuild this offseason. However, at 21-15, the Clips currently sit fourth in the stacked Western Conference and are on pace to win 47 games. Through 36 games in 2017-18, L.A. was just 17-19.”
This week: 13th, Last week: 12th
Notes: “The Clippers have lineup issues. Their regular starting lineup (with Marcin Gortat at center) has been outscored by an amazing 31 points per 100 possessions in its 110 minutes over their last 10 games. They started Boban Marjanovic last week and the new lineup was better in wins over the Kings and Lakers on Wednesday and Friday. But they had another rough start against the Spurs on Saturday and it’s been the third quarter when they’ve really had problems. The San Antonio loss was the fourth time in that 10-game span that they’ve been outscored by at least 12 points in the third period. As good as Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari have been this season, the Clippers remain dependent on their reserves. It was a five-man bench unit that was on the floor for most of their 22-0 run (spanning the third and fourth quarters) that decided their game against the James-less Lakers.”
This week: 12th, Last week: 11th
Notes: “Montrezl Harrell recently stated how tired he was of the Clippers not getting respect in Los Angeles. And with the way the team is playing without an obvious star player, Harrell has a point. The Clippers have been a top-5 playoff seed for most of the season behind an awesome offense. Danilo Gallinari is reminding basketball fans of how good he is when he is healthy—which he rarely is—and has scoring 20 PPG over his last five matchups before the Clippers loss to the Sixers on Tuesday.”
This week: 12th, Last week: 17th
Notes: “Sweeping the the weekend back-to-back in Los Angeles would have been a great way for the Clippers to close out 2018, but at least they beat their in-state rivals of the Kings and Lakers. And with Lou Williams continuing to show out since his return from injury (22.2 points and 6.7 assists), it’s mostly positive vibes in Los Angeles going into 2019.”