After reaching the zenith of the power rankings one week ago while holding the best record in the league, an injury to Paul George has brought the Clippers back down to the rest of the pack. While the team can compensate for absences to other non-Kawhi Leonard players on the roster, this squad simply isn’t built to play without the two superstars.
It’s unreasonable to make grand conclusions about the team-building process based on games played without the Clippers’ second-best player; of course there would be a lack of playmaking when both George and Patrick Beverley sit. However, there are a few trends that emerged in the games George was a part of that are worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Let’s take a look.
This week: 3rd | Last week: 1st
Even after a 124-120 loss at Brooklyn on Tuesday, the Clippers were in a groove. But then Paul George suffered a toe injury that kept him out the past two games, and Kawhi Leonard & Co. quickly have discovered how much tougher life is without him. They’ve lost two straight close home games to the Celtics and Kings, with Leonard working awfully hard to get the double-doubles he got. The Clippers need George and Patrick Beverley, who has missed eight straight games, back soon.
This week: 4th | Last week: 1st
The Clippers have lost three out of four for the first time this season, but the two weekend losses came without Paul George (dealing with a sore right foot) and all three games were close. The Clippers are now 5-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 12-1 otherwise, with that latter mark being the league’s best record in games that weren’t close. Maybe it’s nothing to worry about.
Of course, their narrow losses speak to a larger issue. The Clippers have been getting by with the second best 3-point percentage in NBA history (41.9%) and have seen some slippage on defense, where they ranked fifth last season. Overall, they rank 12th defensively and in the clutch, they rank last, having allowed 90 points on 67 defensive possessions with the score within five in the last five minutes. Brooklyn, Boston and Sacramento combined to shoot 12-for-22 in the clutch against the Clippers last week, with six of those 12 buckets coming in the restricted area. Only three of the Clippers’ own 22 clutch field goal attempts came in the restricted area.
This week: 5th | Last week: 3rd
Three losses and a worrisome foot injury to Paul George make this a rough week for the Clippers, who take a slight tumble in the rankings. They struggled to make up for George’s production after he went out, though Lou Williams appears to finally be finding a rhythm. He put up a season-high 23 points in the loss to the Kings on Sunday, and they’ll need him to get back to his bucket-getting ways for as long as George is out. Kawhi Leonard averaged 26.3 points for the week, but shot just 22 percent from 3-point range.
This week: 8th | Last week: 3rd
Last week featured two big games for the Los Angeles Clippers, and both resulted in losses.... Those losses highlighted the Clippers’ biggest weakness: the lack of a true point guard. Especially against the Nets, they struggled to get easy looks and were constantly settling for tougher shots.
This week: 5th | Last week: 2nd
The preseason prediction: Luke Kennard is in the closing lineups.
The update: Kennard hasn’t come anywhere close to being in end-of-game lineups for the Clippers. He hasn’t even played seven clutch minutes this season for the Clippers, and I’m not sure it will be headed toward changing at all. Where the Clippers would need him most is his 3-point shooting, in theory. Except the Clippers are the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA. Kennard has been brilliant from deep (45.5 percent) but so has the rest of the team. He’s also a solid playmaker, but the Clippers haven’t needed him one bit in the clutch so far.