It’s been a tough start to the new year. After a surprising win in Brooklyn to ring in 2022, the Clippers have dropped below .500 and have had difficulty finding consistency with new players entering the health and safety protocols seemingly every other day.
The lack of consistency has been most prevalent on offense, where the Clippers can’t really run their sets because of insufficient practice time and constantly changing rotations. That means the Clippers is especially reliant on its lead guards, making Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe’s play a key barometer for the team’s success.
Bledsoe had three bad games in a row, and Jackson was a league-worst minus-59 over the last four games, so it’s clear why the Clippers have struggled of late. Lue noted that Jackson was fatigued against Atlanta, and he isn’t the only one. This team continues to battle despite the adverse circumstances, but it’s fair to wonder how much longer the remaining Clippers can hold the fort, especially with a big road trip on the horizon. This week’s power rankings aren’t so optimistic.
This week: 17th | Last week: 12th
The Clippers spoiled Lou Williams’ return and got a much-needed victory over the Hawks on Sunday. It halted some of the bleeding from a stretch in which the Clippers lost nine of 12 games. The Clippers are slowly getting some bodies back. Besides getting Tyronn Lue back on the bench from health and safety protocols last week, Ivica Zubac was cleared from protocols, while Nicolas Batum also was able to make his way back from injury. But with Paul George (elbow), Luke Kennard (protocols) and Isaiah Hartenstein (ankle) still out, Lue has his work cut out to keep the Clippers from sinking further out of the playoff race.
This week: 16th | Last week: 13th
The Clippers have been feeling the absence of Paul George. They were outscored by 46 points (allowing 111 on 74 defensive possessions) in the second quarter over a three-game losing streak that took them below .500 for the first time since they were 3-4. Neither the Suns nor the Grizzlies shot particularly well against the Clips last week, but they combined for 37 offensive rebounds and 49 second-chance points. The Clippers are the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, having ranked 12th and fifth last season.
But the Clippers got to play the Hawks on Sunday, and while Atlanta’s issues have been mostly on defense, the Clippers’ 106-93 win was just the fifth time that the Hawks’ third-ranked offense has been held under a point per possession. And while helping keep Trae Young in check, Amir Coffey (the guy who’s essentially taken George’s spot in the rotation) tied a career-high with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
The Clippers are 6-9 without George, having slipped from fifth to ninth in the West since he last played. One of those nine losses came against Denver on Dec. 26, when the Clippers struggled to score down the stretch of what was a three-point loss. The Nuggets are back in L.A. on Tuesday.
This week: 17th | Last week: 13th
Since the new year began, there’s been one pretty clear takeaway, albeit with a small-ish sample size: when Eric Bledsoe plays well, the Clips are a much, much better team.
It was the case on New Year’s Day, when he ignited for 27 points on 8-for-12 shooting to help beat the Nets. And it was the case again on Sunday, when he shot 6-for-9, logged 12 points and had seven assists against just one turnover in a victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
The common denominator: Los Angeles won both those games. They dropped the other three games this calendar year, in which Bledsoe shot 0-for-3, 4-for-12 and 0-for-4, respectively. It’s all hands on deck for the Clips, who await the return of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. But Bledsoe’s hands seem to carry extra weight in shifting the balance.
This week: 13th | Last week: 12th
How many players signed? 4 (Moses Wright, Xavier Moon, James Ennis III, Wenyen Gabriel)
Biggest takeaway from the hardship era: As much as we could dissect what this team has looked like during this stretch — as it just tries to piece together lineups and rotations with so many key players out of the lineup — the real heartbeat of this stretch is potentially brightened by the report from Chris Haynes this past week. He said there is growing optimism that Kawhi Leonard could be back this season, as he’s apparently ahead of schedule with his ACL rehab. I don’t know if you could have gotten better news for the Clippers. I’d still be highly cautious about the idea of Leonard coming to save the season, but that report isn’t getting out there unless Kawhi is feeling great about where his knee is. We know how reserved he’s been with injury rehab in the past, so this all points to great signs for Kawhi and this Clippers season getting better.