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The Clippers hit their first lull of the second half of the season

A winless week at least left the Clippers with a playoff berth.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers had been 17-3 over their last 20 games heading into their matchup against New Orleans a week ago. Since then, they’re 0-3. They’ve essentially ceded any chance of finishing in the top two in the West, and have also lost the tiebreaker to Denver, but they’ve been surprisingly upbeat in all of their public appearances.

Ty Lue is happy to have Kawhi Leonard back with Patrick Beverley also progressing to a return. The Clippers can now figure out what they’re working with even if the process doesn’t always look pretty in real time. Although the rankings are focusing on the results, it’s always important to keep the big picture in mind.


ESPN

This week: 7th | Last week: 4th

The Clippers have lost three straight but none more stinging than their most recent to Denver. The Nuggets won the season series and the crucial tiebreaker, and they overtook the Clippers for third place in the West. Seeding likely will be important only from the standpoint of avoiding a potential first-round matchup with the Lakers. Really, the most critical thing for the Clippers over these final seven games is to define roles and develop chemistry with Kawhi Leonard back. Patrick Beverley is nearing a return, and Serge Ibaka continues to work his way back. It’s imperative for the Clippers to see what they can do at full strength, if only for a few games, before the postseason starts.

NBA.com

This week: 5th | Last week: 1st

The top of the Western Conference is unforgiving. After a 17-3 stretch had the Clippers within a game in the loss column of the second-place Suns, a three-game losing streak has dropped them to fourth. Seeds might not matter come playoff time, but matchups will.

The Clippers have been on the edge of the top 10 in overall defense for the last month, but they’ve taken a pretty big step backward there from last season, with only five teams having seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Clippers rank last in points allowed per possession from pick-and-roll ball-handlers (0.94) and, as they allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the three losses, the Pelicans, Suns and Nuggets shot 55% on pull-up 2-pointers. Ivica Zubac has generally been terrific as the starting center in place of the injured Serge Ibaka and has been the better rim protector of the two, but his drop coverage isn’t very disruptive. His 0.8 deflections per 36 minutes are the fifth fewest among 348 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes this season.

The Clippers aren’t in danger of falling any further than fourth, but we might get a playoff preview (and they can complete a season sweep) when they meet the healthy Lakers on Thursday.

CBS Sports

This week: 5th | Last week: 1st

Nothing will drop you from the top spot in the Power Rankings faster than an 0-3 week, and that’s where the Clippers find themselves after losses to the Pelicans, Suns and Nuggets. Two of the games were without Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George has cooled off after a prolonged hot stretch which led to some relative offensive struggles for the Clippers, who didn’t crack the 105-point mark in any of the three losses.

Bleacher Report

This week: 8th | Last week: 1st

The Clippers’ reign at the top of the rankings has come to an end with a three-game losing skid. It started with a bad loss to New Orleans, then L.A. dropped two high-profile showdowns to Phoenix and Denver.

Those losses even knocked the Clippers down to fourth in the West standings. The Nuggets now own the season series, so the Clippers will have to finish better than them, not tied to earn a higher playoff seed.

In some good news, Kawhi Leonard made his return to the court after missing the past five games. In his 30 minutes against the Nuggets, he had 16 points, six assists and five rebounds—solid numbers, but Leonard still has some rust to work off.

Looking ahead, maintaining home-court advantage in the first round shouldn’t be a big deal for the Clippers, but avoiding a first-round series against the Lakers is something they need to keep their eye on. It should not surprise anyone if there is some matchup jockeying over the final two weeks to make sure they avoid them.

The Athletic

This week: 8th | Last week: 1st

The Clippers care less about finishing strong and more about finishing healthy. I know, I know. That’s not exactly a small limb to stand on when you have a team employing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But that’s the most important thing for them right now. Seeding comes and goes, but the health they need for a deep playoff run can be fickle. We all know the Clippers have the talent. They just need to take as many obstacles out of their own way as possible. I’m choosing to believe the Clippers make the conference finals. I thought championship last year, and they imploded. Let’s see if a lower goal yields a higher/better result.