The Clippers finally rediscovered their offensive mojo this week and had two of their more dramatic wins of the year by beating Indiana in a shootout and then mounting a 24-point comeback against old friend Doc Rivers and the Sixers.
Unfortunately, those two wins were accompanied by two more losses and the continued absence of Paul George, meaning that the Clippers are still in ninth place in the West and falling down the national power rankings, as George and Kawhi Leonard’s statuses remain nebulous. That places the Clippers are at their lowest perch since starting the season 1-4. But don’t worry, this is a team that knows how to rally when it falls behind.
This week: 19th | Last week: 20th
Paul George will remain out for at least a few more weeks as the Clippers see how his torn elbow ligament will respond to more rest. Without George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers continue to grind; for the second time this month, the Clippers overcame a 24-point deficit and won, beating their old coach Doc Rivers and the Sixers on Friday. The Clippers are just the sixth team in the past 25 seasons to come back from 24 down to win twice in a season.
This week: 22nd | Last week: 18th
The Clippers have seen the league’s biggest drops from last season in both winning percentage and point differential (both per game and per 100 possessions). And with their defeat in New York on Sunday, they’re the first team to have matched their loss total from ’20-21 (when they were 47-25). But the Clippers aren’t letting go of the rope. They entered last week having been held under a point per possession in three straight games, but their four games last week were their best offensive stretch of the season (119.2 points scored per 100 possessions).
Their second-leading scorer over the four games was Ivica Zubac, who had a career-high 32 points against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Wednesday. The big man was aggressive from the start and the Nuggets didn’t really have a solution for him at the end. When Nikola Jokic guarded him, the Clippers went to pick-and-roll. When the Nuggets adjusted by having Jeff Green guard Zubac, Zubac took Green into the post. The Clippers lost in OT and Zubac’s per-game average is still below 10 points per game, his effective field goal percentage is a career-best 67.3%. He’s one of nine players who have shot 70% or better on at least 100 attempts in the restricted area and 50% or better on at least 50 attempts elsewhere in the paint.
The Clippers’ win in Philly on Friday was the third in a game they trailed by at least 20 points. That leads the league (the Knicks and Pelicans have two each) and is more than any team had last season. The rest of their eight-game trip is a stretch of five games in seven days, starting Tuesday.
This week: 20th | Last week: 19th
Player to watch: Nicolas Batum
It turns out Batum’s renaissance campaign with the Clippers wasn’t a fluke. He’s still shooting just over 40% from behind the three-point line, still filling gaps on defense that impact winning and still able to play four positions on both sides of the ball. Should Kawhi Leonard and Paul George somehow make it back to 100% before the season ends, Batum may become one of the most important swingmen in basketball.
This week: 16th | Last week: 13th
Promising lineup: Reggie Jackson | Luke Kennard | Terance Mann | Paul George | Ivica Zubac | 56 minutes | +4.1 net rating
It’s so tough to find things for this LA Clippers team now that George is out for an extended period and Kawhi Leonard still might not be back this season. If he is, that changes a lot of how this exercise goes, but I’ll go with caution while still hoping PG returns. This is probably the lineup that makes the most sense for this Clippers team because it gives them theoretical shooting from the outside while still having enough size and versatility for the interior. This lineup hasn’t done great with their offense, but the defense has been lockdown. Even with Jackson and Kennard on the floor, this lineup doesn’t really have weaknesses defending. I think this lineup has real potential.
Questionable lineup: Reggie Jackson | Eric Bledsoe | Paul George | Nicolas Batum | Ivica Zubac | 167 minutes | -9.3 net rating
This is the Clippers’ most-used lineup this season, and it’s been awful. They give up over 114 points per 100 possessions, and it really shouldn’t be that bad. I can buy into the idea that it would struggle the way it does offensively, but there’s too much defensive talent — even if some of it is past its prime on that end of the floor — to be this poor at it. Bledsoe has really struggled at times. Batum isn’t as quick as he used to be, but this team still needs to perform a lot better when these five are together. Just have to hope George will be able to come back before it’s too late.