Every year, the Clippers schedule (and that of the Lakers and the L.A. Kings) is built around the GRAMMYs at the end of January. The award show requires at least 10 days to set up in the home of all three teams, which means they all have to get out of the building for an extended period of time.
This year, even though the GRAMMYs have been postponed, the road trip remains, and the Clippers have the longest road stretch of any team in the NBA this season, an eight-game doozy that spans 13 days and includes two back-to-backs. So far, the Clippers are 7-11 on the road this year, a mark they’ll hope to exceed to get back above .500 before returning to Los Angeles.
Alas, the team remains without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for this trip, keeping the team in a sort of limbo. The Clippers still want to make the playoffs but know that any real hopes of contention rely on both stars returning, and that makes it hard to evaluate the group that is still standing without knowing what the aim for the rest of the season should be. That confusion presents itself in this week’s power rankings.
Note: These rankings were compiled before the win over Indiana Monday.
This week: 20th | Last week: 17th
The Clippers are in the roughest stretch of their season and clearly miss Paul George. Coach Ty Lue’s team has dropped 11 of its past 17 games, including two straight — at New Orleans and San Antonio. Amir Coffey has emerged as a scorer in recent games, Serge Ibaka had one of his best games as a Clipper with a double-double and Isaiah Hartenstein is back from injury. But the Clippers are heading in the wrong direction and now are trying to stay above water for the Western Conference’s eighth spot.
This week: 18th | Last week: 16th
The Clippers found another way to win on Tuesday, coming back from 25 points down in the third quarter against Denver by holding the Nuggets to just 26 points on their final 36 possessions. It was tied for the second-biggest comeback in a win this season and the Clippers’ own 87 points on 93 possessions was the least efficient offensive performance for any team in a win since October. Amir Coffey and Nicolas Batum hit a couple of big 3s and the Clippers improved to 13-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
But the Clippers have also been held under a point per possession in their two games since then, with their two leading scorers (Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris) having combined to shoot 24-for-86 (28%) over the three games. They led the Spurs by five in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but then scored just once on their final 15 possessions of the game, with one brutal stretch of three straight turnovers.
It was on Christmas that the Clippers announced that Paul George had a torn ligament in his right elbow. Since then, they rank 13th defensively and 29th on offense, with only the Pistons having scored less efficiently. When they made that announcement, the Clippers said George would be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks. It’s now 3-4 weeks since Christmas, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he’s near a return. The longest road trip for any team this season is the Clippers’ eight-game, 13-day trip that begins Wednesday in Denver.
This week: 19th | Last week: 17th
A small sell. While the Clips don’t need to blow it up, injuries to Kawhi Leonard and now Paul George have changed their season. A gap period did wonder for the Warriors, and it could for the Clippers as well. The problem? They don’t own their first-round pick because of the PG trade. Looking to trade some of the older vets, maybe Serge Ibaka or Marcus Morris, for a first could help the front office extend their window once both superstars are at full strength.
This week: 13th | Last week: 13th
Halfway-point Grade: B
I know the LA Clippers are under .500 and they have a negative net rating, but I still think this season has been very impressive. Paul George is out for an extended period of time, and some are wondering if we see him again this season. Kawhi Leonard is contemplating a return to the team during this season, which would be a huge boost, obviously. But it would look a lot better if PG was waiting for him. All the while, they continue to grind out these games, and Ty Lue continues to coach his tail off. It’s asking a lot for the Clippers to remain competitive, and they’re just 5-11 in their last 16 games. But the Clippers keep showing how resilient they are.
Prediction Update? I will update this prediction. Before, it was the Clippers falling into the Play-In Tournament, winning it and facing the Lakers in the first round. The last part of that feels like it’s not going to happen because the Lakers haven’t been good enough, nor will they be good enough to come through on that prediction. So I think the Clippers still hit the Play-In Tournament, and they still win it to get a spot in the actual playoffs. But we’ll leave the Lakers out of this.