What a difference a day makes.
On Sunday, the Clippers had retaken control of the best record in the NBA after winning their seventh game in a row, and Kawhi Leonard had once again delivered a superlative performance in another MVP-caliber season. A day later, the Clippers learned that their two best players were out due to health and safety protocols, and that Patrick Beverley would also be out for at least the opener of the road trip.
In their absence, the Clippers will have to debut their seventh different starting lineup of the season (I’ve made my best guess as to what that might look like) and they’ll have to rely on their oft-maligned depth. Lou Williams, Marcus Morris Sr., and Ivica Zubac have been relatively productive off the bench, even if they haven’t performed at the same level as they did a year ago, but players nine and beyond will have to take a step up on this road trip.
That begins with Reggie Jackson, who has been mostly tasked as a spot-up shooter but will have to create more in the absence of Leonard and Paul George. During Jackson’s Clipper tenure, less has been more, though that’s no longer an option. Patrick Patterson — who head coach Ty Lue said he calls “just add water” because Patterson is always instantly ready — will also have to provide volume shooting in the second unit, as well as passable positional defense.
This game could be a coming out party of sorts for Luke Kennard. He has been increasingly aggressive in the Clippers’ recent wins and will have a great deal of liberty to score and create without having to worry about sharing the ball with the team’s stars.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m. PT
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Opposing perspective: Peachtree Hoops
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka
Hawks: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
Clippers: Patrick Beverley (right knee soreness), Kawhi Leonard (health and safety protocols), Paul George (health and safety protocols) — OUT
Hawks: Cam Reddish (right achilles), Bogdan Bogdanovic (right knee), Kris Dunn (right ankle) — OUT
The opponent Tuesday is the somewhat confusing Hawks. Despite their middling 8-8 record, the Hawks have the sixth-best point differential in the league, per Cleaning the Glass ,which filters out garbage time. Atlanta has the fifth-best offense and the tenth-best defense, but has been unlucky in close games.
The Hawks have effective perimeter defenders in De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Rajon Rondo who will now turn their attention from Leonard and George to Jackson, Williams, and Kennard. Both teams would be wise not to let their guard down; with so many players missing, this game could go in any number of directions.
One barometer for the Clippers’ success could be the pace of the game. LA is a notoriously slow team that doesn’t get out on the break much, while Atlanta has the sixth-highest transition frequency in the league. Then again, with three-fifths of their starting lineup missing, the Clippers might be forced to run in order to mitigate their loss of halfcourt creation.
Admittedly, this was not the news the Clippers were expecting to receive at the start of their six-game road trip, and the Hawks aren’t much healthier (though none of their absences are Covid-related). Ideally, all of the involved parties recover swiftly and it’s still possible to enjoy this game.
Who do you think needs to step up for the Clippers in Atlanta? Comment below.