The Clippers... have not been very good lately. Sure, it hasn’t been catastrophic: they’re still sitting at a comfortable 28-13 record, and their one “bad” loss lately was to the surging Memphis Grizzlies, who have now won 6 games in a row and moved into sole possession of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. But the record isn’t the only piece of the equation here, and make no mistake: the Clippers have had a bad few weeks.
The best way to summarize it (to paraphrase a point I made on twitter last weekend), is that the Clippers are not very good at offense or defense right now, and it has been a long time since they were able to be good at either (or both) for longer than a quarter at a time. The team has been not only chronically shorthanded but also chronically lethargic, routinely allowing 60-point first halves to inferior teams and employing offensive actions only slightly more sophisticated than what you’d expect in a pick-up game.
What was supposed to be a soft spot in the Clippers’ schedule—a five-game stretch against Sacramento, Detroit, Memphis, New York, and Golden State where the team should have been able to rest, do some fine-tuning, and rattle off a win streak—turned into a disappointing ten days for Clippers fans, as the team managed a 4-1 record but played poorly throughout (including the loss, a 26-point blowout at home against the sub-.500 Grizzlies). Now, as the Clippers head out on a six-game road trip that includes challenges against New Orleans (with Zion Williamson scheduled to debut this week), Dallas, Miami, and a finale against the Lakers, they need to make sure they’re sharp. It will not be as easy for the team to find wins with such a low level of play in the second half of January as they did in the first.
To that point, Thursday’s game against the Orlando Magic is a crucial opportunity for the Clippers to build on the momentum from last night’s win against the Cleveland Cavaliers and actually feel confident as they head out on the road—a positive feeling that has been absent in the locker room recently.
The Magic are not very good, but they aren’t as bad as some of the teams the Clippers have faced recently: at 19-21, they are currently in 7th place in the East, and while emerging phenom Jonathan Isaac is currently injured, the trio of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic gives the Magic enough scoring to stay in games while their surprisingly elite defense (5th in DRTG) controls the pace (the fourth-slowest in the league) and limits opponent scoring (resulting in a league-best 103.5 opposing points per game). If the Clippers are lackadaisical offensively, they will be hard-pressed to score against Orlando, meaning that L.A.’s recent trend of allowing high-scoring opening quarters and first halves could result in another early deficit.
Losing to a mediocre team at home is exactly what the Clippers do not need if they want to use this home stand as a springboard for success in their upcoming road trip, which features three of the league’s very good teams.
Not only is that important from the team’s perspective, but for fans, it means that it will be the last chance to see the Clippers play on their home court for two weeks—until they host the Kings on January 30th. And as an added wrinkle, the looming trade deadline, which the NBA has moved up to before the All-Star Break, on February 6th, means that this could be fans’ last chance to see this roster as it currently exists.
To grab tickets for this game, check out the ticket offerings on StubHub.
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