Well, I guess we can all take a few breaths now. After back-to-back up and down weeks from the Clippers, we finally saw another undefeated week. While the Cavs, Magic, and Pelicans are all teams under .500, a win is a win in the NBA, and the Clippers going streaking without Paul George shows that this is still the talented, deep team we’ve all come to love. It helps especially when you have players like Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams playing the way they are currently.
For the month of January, the two are combining for 55.7 points, 10.5 assists, and 9 rebounds a game. Both are easily shooting their highest field goal percentages of any month this season (Kawhi - 52%, Lou - 49.6%), while Lou is shooting 50% from three over his last eight. These two have been the biggest reason the Clippers are not diving without PG, and for Lou, this month has been a welcomed surge after a quiet December. Kawhi finally is starting to look 100% healthy and is continuing to build his case for best player in the league. He has had five straight 30+ point games and is averaging 13.4 made buckets during that span.
The Clippers are doing what needs to get done with injury absences, including an injury to starter Moe Harkless as well, and winning the games they need to win. Seven of their next 11 games come against teams under .500. Win those and sprinkle in two or three wins against the teams above .500 and the Clips will find themselves creeping up to that number one seed out West. Paul George is traveling with the team during their annual Grammy road trip and could be back as soon as Wednesday against the Hawks, a game Kawhi will most likely miss due to “load management.” Having PG back and healthy will be crucial to more winning streaks for a Clipper schedule that is conducive to it.
Let’s take a look at where the Clippers rank in the eyes of the NBA media after 13 weeks.
This week: 3, Last week: 5
Notes: “The Clippers enjoyed a 3-0 week with wins over the Cavs, Magic and Pelicans. The Clippers haven’t flexed the full power of their roster all that much this season. Paul George is getting close to returning, and as the season turns over to the second half, the Clippers will start featuring their top eight or nine players more consistently. Because when they play their best eight, they are really, really good.”
This week: 4, Last week: 6
Notes: “Kawhi Leonard slow plays the regular season, so it’s always a minor surprise to see him unleash a performance like he did in New Orleans on Saturday. Leonard poured in 39 points along with six rebounds and six assists, dominating the Pelicans even without Paul George in the lineup. June feels like three years ago, but don’t forget Leonard’s dominance on the game’s biggest stage. Is there anyone else you’d want for a playoff series in 2020?”
This week: 4, Last week: 8
Notes: “The Clippers have been without Paul George for the last five games and their defense has had some rough moments. It allowed the Pelicans to score 80 points in the first half on Saturday and ranks 15th (110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the nine games since they last had George, Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard all in the lineup, even though six of those nine games have been at home and five of them have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
But Leonard has righted the ship by averaging 33.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62% over the five games that George has been out. In that stretch, the Clippers have scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor and less than a point per possession with him off the floor. He’s been getting to the basket more and finishing better over the last month (24% of his shots in the restricted area, 70% shooting there) than he was previously (16%, 65%), and the last five games have come with his season high for restricted area makes (eight against the Warriors on Jan. 10) and attempts (10 on Saturday).”
This week: 3, Last week: 7
Notes: “Kawhi Leonard has scored 30+ points in each of the Clippers’ last five games. During this five-game stretch, he’s averaging 36.0 points, 5.6 boards, 4.8 boards, 2.8 steals, and 3.0 treys while shooting 58% from the floor, 43% from downtown and 86% from the charity stripe. The 180 points he tallied are the most in a five-game span in his career.”
This week: 3, Last week: 5
Notes: “The Clippers went undefeated this week, with wins over the Cavs, Magic and Pelicans. Kawhi Leonard has been on another level, averaging 38 points per game on 58.6 percent field goals and 52.4 percent 3-pointers this week with Paul George sidelined with a hamstring injury. Landry Shamet scored in double figures in each game this week, after only doing so once in his previous six games.”
This week: 3, Last week: 4
Notes: “All-Star(s) in the mix: Kawhi Leonard and maybe Paul George. Leonard should be a lock regardless of the fan/media/players vote. He’s one of three players averaging at least 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Kawhi is also one steal away from being the fifth player in NBA history to average 26 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. His defense isn’t the best we’ve ever seen, but it’s still very good. He’s won a few games for the Clippers team on his own. Basically, he’s doing Kawhi stuff, and he hasn’t missed that many games. George is a little tougher to gauge here. He’s only played six fewer games than Leonard so far this season, but he may not crack 30 games by the time the reserves are announced. We just don’t know his status. He’s been fantastic when he’s played, but he could be a casualty of getting squeezed out by a lack of games played.
Why is this team here? This isn’t about what they’re capable of doing, although that is a bit of a factor with every team as I rank them weekly. While the Clippers have had some ups and downs during the past couple weeks, I still think they’re better and more consistent than the teams behind them. They have some chemistry issues to overcome right now, which have crept to the surface a bit during this stretch. But they took down the teams they were supposed to beat this week. They’re really good.”
This week: 4, Last week: 6
Notes: “Maybe it feels like we’re taking the Clippers’ position as title contenders, which remains as secure as anybody’s other than the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, on faith. Their performance through half the season hasn’t been as dominant as, say, the Lakers’ or Bucks’. But just about everyone, perhaps rightly, seems to accept a “Yeah, but once they all suit up and get serious for the playoffs, they’ll be special” rationalization. Kawhi Leonard basically verified that sentiment after shredding the Cavs with 43 points in 29 minutes during Tuesday’s 128-103 win.
His counsel for teammates who might be concerned about midseason injuries, substandard defense and absent urgency: “Don’t be in a rush to win these games. Enjoy every moment of it. Enjoy the process and use it as a learning tool when you get down in the trenches.” Considering Leonard lifted last year’s Raptors from good to great when it mattered, it’s hard to question his mentality.
L.A. looks every bit the championship threat on the relatively rare occasions Leonard and George play in the same game, posting a 14-4 record. And it’s not like a 30-13 record with a plus-6.5 net rating signals weakness. The Clips, often playing at half-speed, are still awfully good.”
This week: 3, Last week: N/A