The Clippers played arguably the toughest week of their schedule — 5 in 7 with a cross-country trip and across through the border — at their most depleted and still managed to win two of five, even breaking through to collect their first victory on the second night of a back-to-back.
That means the team is still clinging to a winning record, staying above the fray in a crowded Western Conference play-in race. Expectations are currently modest, but the Clippers are exceeding them, and not too many other teams around the league can say the same. That’s why a 2-2 week still has the Clippers rising in the power rankings.
This week: 12th | Last week: 12th
Still reeling from the Christmas Day news that they will be without Paul George for likely at least a month due to a torn ligament in his right elbow, the Clippers were routed by Brooklyn at home last Monday. They rebounded to win at Boston, but Clippers coach Ty Lue and starting center Ivica Zubac entered health and safety protocols before the team suffered a tough close loss at Toronto on New Year’s Eve. Forced to play at Brooklyn on a back-to-back, the Clippers learned Luke Kennard entered protocols before they left the hotel for the arena. Still, even with Nicolas Batum (ankle), Marcus Morris Sr. (rest) and Isaiah Hartenstein (ankle) also out, the Clippers pulled out their biggest and most improbable win of the season over an uninspired Nets team. Somehow, the depleted Clippers remain above .500. A few reasons: Eric Bledsoe is playing his best basketball of the season, and youngsters Terance Mann and Amir Coffey are developing.
This week: 13th | Last week: 14th
The Clippers, with guys beyond Paul George out of the lineup every night, continue to pick up wins by any means necessary (and with some help from their opponents). With the Celtics shooting 4-for-42 (9.5%) from 3-point range on Wednesday, the Clips’ win in Boston was more of pitcher’s duel. And with the Nets playing some lethargic defense on Saturday, the Clips’ win in Brooklyn was their best offensive output (120 points on 104 possessions) in three weeks.
Both games (as well as their loss in Toronto on Friday) were within five points in the last five minutes and the Clips scored 36 points on 22 clutch possessions (with only two guys playing clutch minutes in all three games) over their three-game trip. They’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in overall 3-point percentage from last season (when they led the league), but they’re still in the top 10 (36.2%) and are a league-best 26-for-52 (50%) on clutch 3s. Luke Kennard (6-for-10) and Reggie Jackson (6-for-11) are two of the four players who have shot better than 50% on at least 10 clutch attempts, but eight different Clippers have made at least one clutch 3-pointer.
The Clippers are 1-6 against the five teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, with two games against that group this week. The one win was over the Suns (who were without Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton) three weeks ago.
This week: 13th | Last week: 12th
Marcus Morris’s four-year, $64 million contract raised eyebrows in 2020, but where would the Clippers be without him? Morris had an All-Star-ish month of December, averaging 20 points and connecting on 40% of his threes. The Clippers, meanwhile, finished a 2-1 road trip with a win over Brooklyn (sans Morris) that kept the Paul George-less team in the thick of the playoff mix.
This week: 12th | Last week: 16th
New Year’s resolution: Get healthy by March and make a run.
Paul George is out with the elbow injury, and that might be the difference between whether or not the LA Clippers avoid the Play-In Tournament. Considering all the games they have missed to injuries, even before we get into health and safety protocol absences, the Clippers being this good this season almost doesn’t make sense. We’re not going to see Kawhi Leonard by March, but if everybody else can get healthy, there is enough here to secure a top-six spot in the Western Conference. They’re in it right now, and they haven’t even had half their rotation most of the season. George back, Luke Kennard healthy, Reggie Jackson healthy and Marcus Morris Sr. back in the mix is enough to hold off a Lakers team that still won’t have Anthony Davis for a while. But they have to get healthy by March, or we’re going to see them limping into the extra games.