A new NBA season has arrived. Fans are back in arenas, we’re back to 82 games, and anything feels possible once again. The last time the Los Angeles Clippers played a full regular-season schedule with the usual soundtrack and backdrop that the supporters provide was 2018-19. Doc Rivers’ team that year made the impossible feel that bit more possible, Ty Lue’s team feels like it has the potential to take this campaign even further.
The narratives have already been set. Kawhi Leonard’s injury provides the perfect platform for further Paul George slander from the non-believers, and the most ardent haters will pray for failure from him and the franchise as they wait with bated breath to make more memes. Fortunately, the Clippers players and staff have little time for those narratives. They’ll maintain the same next man up mentality, they’ll help PG thrive with the added responsibility. Those who captured our hearts last time out will call upon that same magic, and the new guys on the roster will be confident of making an instant splash.
Lue’s adjustments meant his squad was able to improve almost every time they took to the floor, as we especially saw through each of their playoff series matchups, and now he’s got his feet under the table and the luxury of a full regular season to work with. They’ve also had a full preseason to work on any issues that they have identified as a group, a luxury they weren’t really afforded last year during the height of the pandemic, though that still didn’t stop them seeing some success. The coaches’ ability with the Xs and Os, coupled with that extra time in the practice facility, should work in their favour.
Problems on the offensive side of the ball — such as their ability to get to the rim, make plays around the basket and push the pace — have been addressed with the arrivals of Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow, but also with an added emphasis on their drive-kick-swing motto. There may be some teething issues at first, though hopefully nothing that even nearly resembles that 51-point loss to the Mavs. Once this offence gets going, it will be a sight to behold.
On defence, things will undoubtedly be harder without Leonard, but the move towards a more versatile unit means the Clippers will be able to do more of the switching 1 through 5 which served them so well in the playoffs, while maintaining the ability to go relatively small without sacrificing too much of their physicality. Bledsoe and Winslow have both shown glimpses of what they can do in that respect, and both will surely continue to grow in stature and familiarity with more reps among their new teammates.
The team has also had time, with a full offseason and a fairly stripped-back preseason schedule, to get guys back towards full fitness. They can use the first few weeks as a chance to reintegrate those who lost significant minutes at the back end of last season, such as Ivica Zubac and Nicolas Batum, while Marcus Morris Sr. and Serge Ibaka are likely to be eased back into the action at a slightly slower pace.
Injuries played a huge part in derailing our hopes and dreams last time out, but 2020-21 was a strange one up and down the league health-wise. Stars dropped like flies when it came to crunch time, and though their returns for other teams won’t necessarily aid the Clippers’ cause, Lue being able to get key rotational figures back fit and firing will be a huge boost. Although our ultimate hopes and dreams may still lie at the treatment room door for Leonard, if his supporting cast can stay on the court, they may just provide the perfect platform for their star’s return when he’s ready.
Us fans will approach the season with the same ambitions we always do, with the added bonus of having a group of guys we trust taking to the floor each night, and the muscle memory of showing the power of our support in the postseason. The injury narratives can allow us to channel the spirit of the Underdog Clippers, with a team that has the talent to match the Lob City era as our previous best chances of a championship.
Whatever happens, it’s sure to be another wild ride. Goggles at the ready, Clipper Nation. Batum Battalion, assemble. It’s going to be another long battle, but this is a group of guys who’ve shown they’re ready to go to war for us. It’s time, once again, to return the favour.