This may well go down as one of the most back and forth Los Angeles Clippers seasons of all time, with each inspired win seemingly followed by a crushing defeat days — or sometimes mere hours — later. We knew when the schedule was released that it was a rough one for this squad, with a whole host of early tip offs and back to backs to negotiate around this crucial halfway point, but it has felt even further compounded by the mixture of injury and illness that has plagued this recent spell in particular.
Teams across the league have had to deal with Covid outbreaks seeing groups of guys assigned to health and safety protocols, but for the Clippers it’s felt more like one in and one out. The same goes for injuries this season, and the team’s big men have been bearing the brunt of that, with Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, and Isaiah Hartenstein all having been consigned to the sidelines at different points. Clipper Nation even took to celebrating a one-tweet injury report recently, such has been our plight. Nobody will be pulling out their tiny violins for this franchise, but it’s been pretty rough.
This past week or so has felt like a microcosm of the season so far. A hard-fought matinee win against the Pacers was followed up by a heartbreaking overtime loss to Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets, before a record comeback against the Sixers was overshadowed by a somewhat tame display against the Knicks. Against Indiana it felt as though everything clicked into place for the Clippers; with all five starters putting up double-digit points and the whole shooting 50% from deep. Then the squad couldn’t get it done in crucial moments against the Nuggets just a few nights later, perhaps a sign of that mental fatigue setting in as much as the physical fatigue of this gruelling schedule.
Although the subsequent victory over Doc Rivers and co was seen as another of his coaching disaster-classes, his former team deserved credit for the way they came back into the contest and stuck to their schemes late on. The following night in New York was a much more underwhelming affair, with the wheels falling off through the final two quarters and Tom Thibodeau’s guys being allowed to have it their own way far too often.
The Clippers have the 11th best lottery odds right now and have this schedule coming up pic.twitter.com/64kP5vvstD— (@Three_Cone) January 23, 2022
The tired displays are traditionally categorised by off-shooting nights and tough losses on the battle of the boards. They’re not necessarily defining factors — the Clippers still managed to topple the Sixers shooting 11-of-32 from deep, for example — but quite often when this team loses, those statistical black marks are present on the stats sheet. On top of that, when the going gets good, multiple guys can stand up and make telling contributions, yet those losing efforts tend to be the result of offensive inconsistency across the squad. That’s predictably the hardest part when a team is missing its key scorers and ball handlers, and two of the league’s best at that, yet the defence has still been top tier in their absence and in the absence of home comforts.
Three of the last four fixtures have been away from Los Angeles, with a further five road games scheduled before they next return home to face the Lakers on Feb. 4. It doesn’t help that this spell away from their arena was caused by a reshuffling to accommodate the Grammy Awards show, only for it to be cancelled due to Covid concerns — a reasonable move with a completely unreasonable impact on this basketball club.
Things look a little more straightforward in terms of tip-off times and rest days heading into February, but with the Clippers currently sitting two games below .500, it is going to take a big effort to get them a guaranteed playoff spot with the quality of the teams they have to face. Next month includes two meetings with LeBron James and company, as well as clashes with four of the top five in the west — the Warriors, Suns, Grizzlies and Mavericks — and a meeting with the reigning champion Bucks. So while they’ll have more time to practice, the opponents only get tougher.
There’s no doubt the air miles clocked up this New Year, as well as the level of the teams they’ve had to do battle with, has had a mental and physical impact on the roster. Now, they’ll be hoping they can keep their core guys healthy for the moment things finally begin to calm down so they can focus their sights. Ty Lue and his staff have always stressed the need for more time in the gym to work with his guys; this next month could show us just how important that is, and just how much we missed out on that to start 2022.