69 games into the season and the Clippers, led by Reggie Jackson and head coach Ty Lue, have fought tooth and nail in almost every one of them to get to where they are at now: a game above .500, firmly in the playoff picture, and and all without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Norman Powell.
Now, as they settle into the reality that is the eighth seed and the play-in game, as the more mainstream audience begins tuning into the NBA, and as the talking heads start honing in on this season’s defining narratives, this Clippers team, as will the rest of the league, will undoubtedly begin tightening rotations, heightening the intensity, and generally preparing for the nearing postseason.
When: Sunday, March 13 at 12 p.m. PT
Where: Little Caesers Arena, Detroit, MI
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Detroit Bad Boys
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Ivica Zubac
Pistons: Cory Joseph, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Marvin Bagley III
Clippers: Robert Covington, Norman Powell, Jay Scrubb, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Pistons: Killian Hayes — QUESTIONABLE; Rodney McGruder — DOUBTFUL; Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Chris Smith, Isaiah Stewart — OUT
The Clippers, however, have a couple more question marks to answer than most teams. The continuing mystery that is the health of Leonard, George, and Powell builds by the day. And especially, the juxtaposition between Lue’s denial of any knowledge regarding the situation (presumably to avoid unwanted and unnecessary pressure being placed on the rehabbing players) with George’s and Powell’s own social medias that seem to be fanning the flames of return rumors, is striking.
The state of Amir Coffey’s contract, which is currently still two-way contract and would bar him from playing in the postseason, also remains unanswered. Surely Coffey, who has made himself indispensable to Lue’s rotation and, as such, averages just under 23 minutes a night for the Clippers, would see himself playing minutes to in the playoffs too, right?
Lawrence Frank and the Clippers front office, however, has remained characteristically silent. That is their M.O., after all. This organization is one who moves in the shadows. Perhaps ironic that they are employed by one of the most actively present and cheerfully vocal owners in the league, and have employed themselves some of the more vocal players in the NBA.
The publicity of the on-court product, however, is inescapable. And tonight is proof of that. Even a game against a relatively subtle matchup in the Pistons is amplified by the moment. Expect Lue to use this opportunity to start working out his playoff roster. Pay attention to who he plays and in which stretches he plays them in. Watch out for who’s tasked with guarding Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham, deadly threats in their own right and player archetypes who the Clippers are sure to be beginning to game plan for.
These hints will pass, just as this season is about to. Blink and you’ll miss it.