Norman Powell, following his strong debut on Sunday, officially entered the starting lineup tonight. And while the Clippers team was sputtering at times in this first half, Powell already looked like the best player on this team. His production tonight, combined with the defensive contributions of Robert Covington, continue making Lawrence Frank, Jerry West, and the Clippers front office look better and better, every passing game.
On that end, the Clippers showed flashes of brilliance, persistence and hard-nosed peskiness tonight, with a combination of Covington, Powell, and Terance Mann putting their clamps on the Grizzlies offense.
The same two vices that have poked their heads in in most Clippers losses resurfaced tonight: offensive impotence and continued rebounding woes. If I had to give a third reason for this loss? Ja Morant and Los Angeles’ inability to contain him.
To the primary, 44.9% shooting from the field, 17 turnovers, and just 32 points in the paint from the Clippers should be testament enough of that. The Clippers now possess the 26th ranked offense in the league.
Even worse is the fact that Memphis responded with shooting 51.5%, committed only 13 turnovers, and scored 78 points in the restricted area, in turn. Much of that could be attributed to defensive lapses and miscommunication, resulting in countless converted Memphis backdoor cuts. Defensive lapses and miscommunication which, in theory, should get better as mid-season acquisitions continue to familiarize themselves with the new system and teammates.
Towards that secondary reason, a 55-40 rebounding advantage in Memphis’ favor is another game in a long series of Clippers losses due to rebounding deficiencies. Even with the abundance of talented forwards and bigs, no Clippers player collected more than seven rebounds.
And then there’s the Ja Morant of it all. Contributing 30 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, including shooting 12-for-19 from the field, Morant not only added another game to his case for not only Most Improved Player, but is demanding his name be included in Most Valuable Player award discussions for the season as well.
Those three factors were enough to push the Memphis lead to more than 30 in the third quarter, which they maintained through the rest of the game.
Silver linings can be relegated to those flashes of brilliance from the overall team defense and instances of two-way potency from Powell. Isaiah Hartenstein’s emergence this season as a real asset continued today with a 17 point, seven rebound performance. And with the Clippers expected to keep tinkering with their roster in the two days before Thursday’s trade deadline, the hyper-vigilant Clippers front office may still have a few moves left in their bag to address these weaknesses.
From these last two games, there seems to be no way to go this season but upwards and onwards. And as the team gains familiarity and perhaps even experiences some more roster turnover in the next couple of days, expect the Clippers to do just that. Work upwards and move onwards, one game at a time.