The Clippers have the third-best record in the NBA and seemed poised to improve as they get more time together with their healthy group. What this week revealed is that the Clippers have some structural issues they still need to work through as they search for more signature wins in the second half of their schedule.
Chief among those problems is an inability to get easy baskets near the rim, whether that be in the half court or in transition. When their jumpers fail to fall, the Clippers aren’t creating enough action towards the basket to compensate. That’s something Kawhi Leonard pointed out after the loss to Milwaukee, and that’s why they’ve dropped a bit in this week’s power rankings.
This week: 4th | Last week: 2nd
It wasn’t one of the Clippers’ best weeks. They pounded a tired Washington team at home but then opened a back-to-back against Memphis in lackadaisical fashion before being routed by the Grizzlies. Coach Ty Lue voiced his frustration with the lack of energy and urgency, and the Clippers rebounded with a 20-point victory in the rematch. But then Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were outplayed by Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, and the Clippers blew an eight-point lead in the final eight-plus minutes. Leonard pointed out that the Clippers aren’t “there yet” and they should learn from losses like the one to the Bucks.
This week: 6th | Last week: 5th
The Clippers are 3-3 against a pretty tough schedule since Paul George and Kawhi Leonard returned from seven-and three-game absences, respectively. They have the league’s fourth-ranked offense in the most efficient season in NBA history, but their disinterest in running and their inability to get to the basket could still be holding them back. Only the Knicks have taken a lower percentage of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and only the Magic have taken a lower percentage of their shots in the restricted area.
Over their three losses in the last eight days, the Clippers were outscored by 43 points (56-13) on fast breaks and by 70 points (124–54) in the restricted area. 70! As they went scoreless on seven straight possessions down the stretch in Milwaukee on Sunday, they weren’t able to get to the line and got to the basket for just one of their eight shots, with George unable to finish over Jrue Holiday. Leonard’s 7-for-25 (28%) on clutch shots ranks last among players who’ve attempted at least 25. He’s 2-for-2 in the restricted area and 5-for-23 outside it.
The Clippers earned a split against Memphis by shooting 11-for-15 on corner 3s on Friday. They’ve shot an amazing 51% on corner 3s for the season, with George (64%), Marcus Morris (61%) and Leonard (58%) ranking first, second and fourth among 136 players with at least 25 attempts. If you can’t get layups, setting the record for most corner 3s per game isn’t a terrible Plan B.
This week: 4th | Last week: 3rd
Not all losses are created equal. The Clippers’ 28-point loss to the Grizzlies was a much tougher blow than the hard-fought battle with the Bucks on Sunday, but it still results in a 2-2 week. Kawhi Leonard averaged 26 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 39 percent 3-point shooting, but the Clippers’ lack of shot creation in the final minutes of the Milwaukee game brought up shades of last season’s playoff nightmare. It makes you wonder if the Clippers will be on the lookout for another ball-handler in the trade or buyout market.
This week: 7th | Last week: 4th
The Clippers went 2-2 last week, but their two losses looked bad. In the first game of their mini-series with the Grizzlies, they got blown out. They allowed 72 points in the paint and only mustered up 24 points of their own.
The Clippers’ loss to the Bucks also featured a few recurring issues. They were outscored in the paint again, this time 48-30. They rank 27th in points in the paint. The Clippers were also outscored in transition 22-2. For the season they rank just 24th in fast-break points. But an even bigger issue was that L.A. only got to the line seven times. SEVEN! Only Lou Williams and Kawhi Leonard attempted free throws for the team. It is not abnormal for them as they average only 19.9 free-throw attempts a game.
Without many points in the paint, transition points and free throws, the Clippers just do not get enough easy baskets.
This week: 4th | Last week: 3rd
The X-Factor role player: Marcus Morris Sr.
We didn’t see Morris get going for the LA Clippers until the playoffs last season. After joining the team midseason, his outside shooting fell off completely. But then he knocked down 47.5 percent of his 3-pointers in 13 postseason games, and he’s carried over that shooting to this season. Morris has been spectacular for this team this season. His ability to hit shots and be a reliable safety valve on offense is big, but his defensive capabilities for the Clippers will be what they need. He’s capable of defending multiple positions, both on the perimeter and interior. Morris is looking for a little redemption after accidentally galvanizing the Denver comeback in the playoffs. The Clippers are extremely confident in utilizing him in big moments too.