Beat Up Clippers
The story of the season for the Clippers thus far has been injuries. Despite their top 4 record in the West, unavailability throughout the roster has made it hard to judge this team. Paul George started the season sidelined after receiving dual shoulder surgery in the offseason. Landry Shamet has missed double digit games with a sprained ankle. Rodney McGruder and JaMychal Green have both missed many of the last several games with minor injuries. Patrick Beverley is still working his way back from a concussion. And of course, Kawhi Leonard has yet to play in both games of a back-to-back due to injury load management. The Clippers have yet to field their entire projected 10-man rotation in the same game. This has led to inconsistent play when multiple players are unable to go at the same time.
Clippers’ Week in Review
The story this week was no different as the team dropped 2 of their 4 games. Their first win of the week was a resounding victory against Phoenix. Green was the only player sidelined in that contest. Next, the Clippers dropped a nail-bitter to the rockets in a game that saw both Williams and Beverley get ejected. Officiating always seems to come into play against a Rockets team that leads the league in drawing fouls. JaMychal was also unavailable against Houston, as well as the next game against San Antonio.
With everyone else ready for action, the Clippers handled the Spurs 134-109. Doing most of their damage in the 3rd quarter, The Clippers held the Spurs to 22 points while scoring 38. In the game Sunday night against the Thunder, JaMychal Green returned to action. However, it was now Kawhi’s turn to sit due to it being the 2nd night of a back-to-back. Patrick Beverley was also unavailable due to injury. In a game that remained close through all 4 quarters, the Clippers were unable to bridge the gap and fell for the 2nd time in 4 nights.
What’s Going Well
At this point, the team is hard to judge due to lack of consistency around who’s actually playing. But, when the majority of the rotation has been available, the team has looked great. Minus losing our best 2 guards against the Rockets, the team has been dangerous when healthy. The two blowouts over the last 7 days have included 20+ point performances from at least 3 of the 4 stars: Kawhi, George, Williams, and Harrell. When the 4 of them are playing together and feeding off of each other, they are nearly impossible to stop. However when the offense gets stagnant or the game is tight, things can lean in the other direction. We will get into that in the next section though.
The role players have been phenomenal to this point. Ivica Zubac continues to show his improvement despite getting the short end of the stick when it comes to sharing minutes with Montrezl Harrell. I can’t blame Doc for keeping Harrell on the floor so often, but I have been more than pleased with Zubac’s production when he is on the court. Maurice Harkless has been phenomenal defensively as he and Patrick Beverley have been used primarily as the on-ball defenders. His length and defensive prowess are the perfect tools to allow PG and Kawhi to play off-ball and patrol the passing lanes. This strategy also keeps them out of foul trouble and fresh offensively. McGruder, Shamet, and Green have all proven to be capable three point shooters, but have yet to be available to play more than a couple of games together.
When this team gets healthy, they have shown all the right signs of becoming the title contender they’re expected to be.
What We Don’t Like
As mentioned before, the 4 horseman as they’ve been called, are tremendous when playing together and sharing the wealth. However, it has become a common occurrence for the stars to start “taking turns.” This means that each possession a different star will get the ball and call for an iso, taking his man 1-on-1. This strategy is not the worst to implement when you have the personnel that the Clippers do, but it has led to stagnant stretches through games. The issue has been most noticeable in the 4th quarter of close games.
Though Kawhi, PG, and Lou are all known as closers, it seems as though they are still worried about stepping on toes sometimes. Either they are too passive which leads to untimely turnovers, or they want to get out of the way so the ball handler is left in an isolation game relying on beating his man 1-on-1. Again, this strategy works on occasion, but when the ball is moving around on a team with so many weapons, the defense can only stop so many. When one player is pounding the ball trying to score for themselves, they are making the defender’s lives easy. I foresee this problem improving as the roster gets more and more playing time together to establish their roles and avoid any confusion down the stretch.
Up Next on the Clippers’ Schedule
The Clippers next game might be the biggest game of the entire season. With JaMychal Green returning in their last outing and depending on Beverley’s status, this could be the first time we see the full expected rotation at full strength. It couldn’t come at a better time as the Clippers will take to their home stadium for an away game against that other team from Los Angeles. The Lakers boast the best record in the West and 2 of the top 5 players in the league. Full strength or not, the Clippers will have their hands full for this one. Their only other game this coming week comes at home against a surging Jazz team. The Jazz have won 6 of their last 7 games and have matches against the Heat and Trailblazers before coming to town to face the Clippers.