When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have shared the court together this season, the Clippers are generally awesome. The duo has a net rating of plus-16.5, which is the very best in the NBA among combinations who have played at least 500 minutes, and their defensive rating would rival the league-leading Lakers.
The problem, therefore, is all the other minutes, which is an increasingly large total this year as Ty Lue has staggered his two stars. But is it worth being concerned about those minutes when the two will presumably play together more during the playoffs? Do the Clippers seriously need to address their depth, or is this latest regular-season blip just that?
The latest power rankings attempt to address that imbalance.
This week: 6th | Last week: 6th
After destroying the Warriors in their first game back from the break, the Clippers were punched in the mouth in New Orleans. This is the second time a younger team (Memphis and New Orleans) took it to them this season on the road. With guys in and out due to injuries and a defense that has yet to live up to expectations, the Clippers have dropped five of seven. Patrick Beverley (knee) is out for at least two more games and Serge Ibaka has a sore back. Two games against Luka Doncic in Dallas loom this week.
This week: 7th | Last week: 8th
Like last season, the Clippers’ issues can be tied, somewhat, to availability and continuity. But they’ve also lost four of the last seven games in which they’ve had both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. George has shot just 13-for-48 (27%) from 3-point range over his last six games (though other guys have picked up the slack) and the Clips just haven’t been able to lock down defensively. Last season, they held their opponent under a point per possession in 23 (32%) of their 72 games. This season, they’ve done it in just four (10%) of 40. (The Lakers and Jazz have done it 11 and nine times out of 38 games, respectively.) Occasion No. 4 was a 26-point win over the Warriors on Thursday. But after two days off, there was no stopping the Pelicans, who scored 62 points in the restricted area in a wire-to-wire victory on Sunday.
Was that the wake-up call the Clippers needed or are they just not as good defensively as they were last season? With the trade deadline just 10 days away, now’s as good a time to play two games (Monday and Wednesday) against the league’s best offensive lineup (the Mavs’ starters) and get closer to an answer to that question.
This week: 7th | Last week: 6th
The Clippers beat the Warriors by 26 to open the second half of the season, then lost to the Pelicans by 20 on Sunday in a disappointing defensive effort with Patrick Beverley sidelined. The Clippers are perhaps the biggest Rorschach test in the NBA, as some will look at the team’s performance with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the court and say they have nothing to worry about. Others will see their poor clutch metrics and propensity for lifeless performances and predict another playoff collapse. Trade deadline activity, or lack thereof, should help us get an idea of how the Clippers’ front office views their current roster.
This week: 7th | Last week: 6th
What’s the realistic goal? Win the championship.
Sure, there are plenty of playoff jokes to make about the LA Clippers until they break through with this group of talented players. The stigma of the Clippers organization remains strong until it finally wins that first title. But the goal for this team, just like it was last season, is to win it all. That’s what happens when you have Kawhi Leonard playing the way he’s played this season. That’s what happens when you have Paul George shooting the way he’s shooting, although he still needs to shake the Playoff P stuff. The Clippers are still championship caliber, and their goal is to prove as such.
Do they need an acquisition to accomplish that? I think they need one more playmaker. I was hoping Luke Kennard could be that for them, and Lou Williams just hasn’t been consistent this season. Ty Lue has changed some of the need for a straight-up playmaking point guard with his offense, but the Clippers need another creator off the bench. The problem is the trade market might be quite docile.