The Clippers had two of their worst performances of the season this past week, and their overall team defense has taken a hit as they experiment with some new lineup combinations, namely the two-big look that has left them vulnerable to speed from the opposition. As a result, it’s hard to look back on last week as anything but a disappointment, even if it did include a win over the Lakers.
However, Nicolas Batum is practicing again and Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris Sr. both had great individual offensive performances within the past few games. The Clippers may look like an average team for now, but the pieces are starting to come together. Perhaps that means this rut has a light at the end of the tunnel.
This week: 16th | Last week: 11th
If it weren’t for a feel-good and clutch win over the Lakers, the Clippers’ past week would’ve been a low point. They lost twice to the Kings, including in Sacramento for the first time in 16 games. And they were blown out at home by the Pelicans and flame-throwing Jonas Valančiūnas, who hit seven 3s and had 39 points and 15 rebounds. The Clippers have lost seven of their past 10 games, with their wins coming against the Pistons, Lakers and the Luka Dončić-less Mavericks at home. Ty Lue’s team is getting healthier with Marcus Morris Sr. back, and perhaps Nic Batum could be nearing a return from health and safety protocols.
This week: 13th | Last week: 10th
According to this year’s GM Survey, Ty Lue is the coach who makes the best in-game adjustments. Witness the play he drew up (with the Lakers trapping Paul George) to get a wide-open corner 3 for Luke Kennard with a little more than a minute to go on Friday. Though the Clips rank 26th offensively overall, only the Suns have been more efficient in the clutch, with LA having scored 96 points on 71 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes.
With some lineup changes (featuring a big frontline of Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac) and with Kennard averaging 15.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 76%, the Clippers’ offense was strong overall (118 points scored per 100 possessions) for a three-game stretch that culminated with the win over the Lakers. But that’s the only win in their last five games, which has been their worst stretch of defense (116.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season.
It was a stretch of five games in seven nights, and the Clippers are now 0-4 in the second games of back-to-backs, having scored just 96.4 points per 100 possessions over the four losses. Their next back-to-back isn’t until after Christmas, the Blazers might be struggling more than they are, and they’ll have a rest advantage when they host the Celtics on Wednesday.
This week: 17th | Last week: 12th
The wins have been coming less frequently for the Clips in recent weeks as Paul George has cooled down from his hot start. Where he shot about 47% overall and 37% from three in his first 12 games of the year, he’s dipped about 10 percentage points in each category in his 11 games since. (He sat out one other game, which they lost.) Los Angeles won 9 of those first 12 contests, but has won only four of its last 12 without George shooting like a star.
This week: 15th | Last week: 15th
New face in this place: Isaiah Hartenstein, free agent signing
Last season: 12.2 mpg, 5.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 55.0/33.3/64.8 shooting splits, 58.3 TS%, +0.4/+2.5 (on/off net rating)
This season: 15.7 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 64.9/66.7/58.5 shooting splits, 65.9 TS%, +6.4/-1.4 (on/off)
Big takeaway so far: I’m blown away by how good Isaiah Hartenstein has been with the LA Clippers desperate for big man depth. A second-round pick trudging around the NBA so far, finding ways to be effective just didn’t appear to be in the cards for him. But Ty Lue has asked him to fill in for Serge Ibaka while he rehabs from back surgery, and Hartenstein has been great in this role behind Ivica Zubac. He isn’t making a lot of mistakes on offense, he’s setting good screens that create space for initiators and he’s been extremely physical on defense. Ideally, at some point this season, they won’t need him, but he’s proving he can be trusted with this role.