It wasn’t the prettiest week — but the Clippers continue to rack up victories and move up the Western Conference playoff standings. Now in sole possession of 5th place by a half game, the Clips can ride this huge wave of momentum into potentially gunning for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago there was still doubt that the Clips could make it? Wasn’t it just a month and some change ago that many thought L.A. was waving the white flag in order to keep their first-round pick this upcoming offseason? Well, believe it or not, the Clippers have a chance to get around 50 wins this season — a season where they were projected to only win 35.5 in Vegas — and storm into a playoff scenario where they could potentially disrupt team’s plans for advancement.
The Clippers started this week with solid wins against the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers at home, able to triumph despite the never-say-die nature of the opposition. On the road for the next two, the Clips looked a bit tired to start against the Cleveland Cavaliers — who have been playing some scrappy, inspired ball since Kevin Love returned form injury and as Colin Sexton continues to get better. The Clips got it together by the fourth, to almost give it up again by the end, when a Jordan Clarkson shot luckily rimmed out to avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss. In Sunday’s matchup against the New York Knicks, the Clippers once again let a young, aggressive team hang around for too long (the Clips still seem to play down to their competition a bit much), as Clipper great DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 13 rebounds and the game was tight until the end. Games on the road are always tough and no matter how ugly a win is…it’s still a win. However, this game came at a price, as stud rookie Landry Shamet went down with what has been described as an “ankle impingement.” Doc Rivers said that time out for Shamet is inevitable and it’ll be interesting to see how the Clippers respond and replace one of their best shooters.
Looking forward to the busy four-game week the Clippers have ahead, they are on the road Tuesday and Thursday in the Midwest to face the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks. The Timberwolves always give the Clips fits with their size and defense, but the lack of guard play (Teague, Rose, and Covington have all been shut down) could help L.A. reach 45 wins Tuesday. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA and will be a tough-out at home, but the Clips have already beat them, and the Bucks are without two of their studs, as Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon are both out with injuries. This is one of the tougher games remaining on L.A.’s schedule but a win here could prove that they are one of the better teams in the league.
L.A. ends the week back home for a weekend back-to-back against the Cavs and Memphis Grizzlies. If L.A. nightlife is truly undefeated, this will either really help, or really hurt the Clips. A 4-0 week would all but solidify the Clips becoming anything above the seventh seed, but the West is crazy these days. Let’s see where NBA media members have the Clippers ranked after a 3-0 week 23.
This week: 8th, Last week: 11th
Notes: The Clippers continue to surge, having won five games in a row and 10 of their past 11 to move up into fifth place in the Western Conference. The Clippers still have an outside shot at home court in the first round of the playoffs, trailing the fourth seed Trail Blazers by only two games. The Clippers play three of their next four games against lottery teams, with a road game at the Bucks as their biggest challenge of the week.
This week: 8th, Last week: 9th
Notes: The Clippers have had some close calls against bad teams (some missed free throws opened the door for a Jordan Clarkson game-winner that just missed on Friday), but they’re a league-best 10-1 in March. They rank No. 1 offensively (116.5 points per 100 possessions) this month, because Danilo Gallinari (third in March true shooting percentage) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have almost matched the output of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Gilgeous-Alexander had an ugly few shooting games right out of the All-Star break, but has shot 53 percent (including 16-for-28 from 3-point range) and registered a 51/15 assist-turnover ratio as he’s scored in double figures in 11 of the last 12. The Clippers are, amazingly, in fifth place. After they complete their four-game trip in Minnesota and Milwaukee, they’ll play five of their final six games at home, where they’ve won nine of their last 10 (including a road game vs. the Lakers).
This week: 9th, Last week: 12th
Notes: Temperature: Scorching. The Clippers have gone 14-5 since trading away Tobias Harris, and have won 10 of their last 11. Everything they touch seems to turn to gold. Doc Rivers won’t win Coach of the Year. But if it weren’t for the Milwaukee Bucks, I’d vote for him.
This week: 3rd, Last week: 4th
Notes: There’s no telling what the future holds for the Clippers. They could sign a big name free agent and then land Anthony Davis in a trade. They could come right back with a group similar to this and bank on the growth of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac. But for now, just revel in the fact that the team has won 10 of its last 11 and is headed to the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, which is the best stretch in franchise history. All the while the Lakers will miss the postseason for the sixth straight season, which is the worst stretch in franchise history.
This week: 11th, Last week: 13th
Something bad: Doc Rivers just doesn’t get the Clippers to shoot enough 3-pointers....
Something good: This team really shines when it comes to pick-and-roll execution....
Authors Note: Rankings below this don’t account for victories over the Cavs or Knicks from last week
This week: 9th, Last Week: 9th
Notes: As measured by Basketball Reference’s Game Score metric, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander completed the best three-game stretch of his rookie season this week. In wins over Chicago, Brooklyn and Indiana, he averaged 16.0 points, 6.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three.
SGA’s performance is basically a microcosm of this Clippers season, in which the team has simultaneously stayed competitive in the present while positioning itself for the future. A rookie guard contributing meaningfully to wins down the stretch in a playoff chase is the NBA equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too. The Clips have won eight of their last nine games and are improbably within striking distance of a playoff seed as high as fifth. Rather quickly, they’ve opened up a chasm between themselves and the lottery teams beneath. If it feels like a club on this kind of hot streak deserves a bigger bump, keep in mind that LA’s net rating on the season only ranks 13th, six of their last eight wins came at home and only four featured playoff-bound opponents.
This section of the rankings is exceptionally crowded this week, so we’ve got to split hairs where we can.
This week: 12, Last week: N/A
Notes: Timely extension, Doc. You earned it this season for a number of reasons but mostly by expertly managing the league’s most dangerous bench.