Heading into the season, it seemed safe to assume that the Clippers — owners of a top-five offense each of the past two years, even as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George each missed significant amounts of time — would continue to score at an elite rate, even if their defense suffered without the former two-time defensive player of the year.
About 20 percent into the season, the team’s fortunes have actually been reversed. The Clippers boast an elite defense, currently second-best in the league despite some rebounding deficiencies, while the club has intended struggled offensively. That combination has still resulted in a solid point differential (seventh in the league, per Cleaning the Glass) and arguably more upside, given Ty Lue’s historical bona fides on the offensive side of the ball.
Here is how the national power rankings view the Clippers after one month of games.
This week: 12th | Last week: 12th
The Clippers had a road trip to forget with double-digit losses at Memphis and New Orleans. The loss to the Pelicans was so ugly that the Clippers scored a total of 26 points in the second half. Just as LA got Serge Ibaka (back) back from a G League stint as he makes his way back into the fold, the Clippers lost Nicolas Batum (health and safety protocols) on Sunday, possibly for multiple days. With Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris Sr. out, Paul George has been carrying the load and it will remain a heavy lift for the foreseeable future.
This week: 8th | Last week: 10th
The Clippers have had two back-to-backs, and the second games of the two sets — Nov. 14 against Chicago and Friday in New Orleans — have been two of their three worst-shooting nights of the season. Of course, the Bulls rank seventh defensively, while the Pelicans rank 29th. And on Friday, the Clippers scored just 26 points on 43 second-half possessions, the second least efficient half for any team this season.
The least efficient half for any team was earlier this month against a Clippers’ defense which now ranks second in the league, having held five of its last six opponents to no better than a point per possession. The Clippers are the anti-Magic in that they’ve been great defensively overall, even though their starting lineup has allowed 114.1 points per 100 possessions, the third-worst mark among 21 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. They’ve allowed just 88.6 per 100 with Isaiah Hartenstein on the floor, tied (with that of Andre Iguodala) for the lowest on-court mark among 261 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes per game. The question is if Hartenstein’s minutes will stay above that 15-per-game mark. He logged just 5:14 as Serge Ibaka played his third game of the season on Sunday. It seems doubtful that coach Ty Lue would play two bigs together, but four man Nicolas Batum (health and safety protocols) is out for at least the next few games.
After their two-day, two-loss trip through Memphis and New Orleans, the Clippers are 2-4 on the road. But they’ve got five games left on the six-game homestand that began Sunday.
This week: 8th | Last week: 8th
The Clippers knocked off a depleted Mavericks team Sunday behind 29 points from Paul George and 23 points from Reggie Jackson. The two not surprisingly make up Los Angeles’s most-used duo, having logged more than 450 minutes together with a +1.7 net rating.
This week: 14th | Last week: 12th
What should this team be thankful for? The defensive scheming and effort each night. The LA Clippers certainly need to credit Paul George and the role players for a lot, but the defense has been truly special this season. George does set the tone for that end of the floor. He’s playing big, he’s playing on the wing and he’s constantly disrupting whatever action opponents are trying to initiate. The only thing the Clippers don’t do well on defense is rebound. Giving up offensive rebounds is probably the reason they’re not closer to challenging Golden State for the top defense in the NBA. After making a shot, they simply lock you up and fly all over the court without fouling. They have the second-best half-court defense in the league, according to Synergy Sports. Tyronn Lue is coaching his tail off.