This season so far for the Clippers has come in tales of twos. They signed two All Stars, they have two of the highest scoring bench players in the league, and they’re one of two teams in Los Angeles with a spotlight fixed on them. However, the Clipper’s play this weekend allowed a peek at a different pair of Clippers. The Clippers that are clicking on both ends of the court, and the Clippers that got their socks knocked off by a bottom-feeder team. The difference between the back-to-back games the Clippers played on Saturday, Feb 8th and Sunday, Feb 9th is immense.
Clippers Changing the Lineup
First of all, it has to be noted that the Clippers once again made all the right moves at the trade deadline. They shipped out Moe Harkless, who was known for being a long, pesky defender and an inconsistent shooter, for Marcus Morris, who was averaging a career high in points and 3PT% as the Knicks’ leading scorer this year. They also shipped out Derrick Walton Jr and Jerome Robinson, neither staples in the rotation, for cash and Isaiah Thomas, who was promptly waived. These moves left the Clippers with two open roster spots heading into buyout season. As one of the clear favorites in the west, they stand a good shot at landing any current or soon-to-be free agents on the market. After shipping out a PG, SG, and SF for a bigger SF/PF combo player, the thought has to be that the front office will target guards or smaller forwards to fill out their playoff roster.
Clippers Lose @ Minnesota (142 – 115)
The first game of the back-to-back took place in Minnesota against another team that made big moves at the deadline. The headliner was their Star swap of Andrew Wiggins and picks for D’Angelo Russell and bench players. However, do not underestimate the talent the Wolves picked up from smaller trades with players such as James Johnson, Malik Beasley, Allen Crabbe, and Juan Hernangomez. None of these are household names, but they are all serviceable players that can bolster Minnesota’s depth behind their new star duo.
Under Manned, Out Gunned
The Clippers came into this game for the first time without Moe Harkless or Jerome Robinson. Marcus Morris had not yet been cleared to join the team, and Patrick Beverley was sidelined with a groin injury. This left the Clippers somewhat shorthanded, but still with their pair of star duos intact with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard starting and Lou Williams and Montezl Harrell available off the bench. However, the star power was not enough.
The new look Timberwolves, also without newly acquired star Russell, dismantled the Clippers from start to finish. The game was tied at 18-18 with 5:01 left in the first quarter, and that was as close as the Clippers came to winning this game. The Wolves outscored the Clippers in every single quarter. Three different Minnesota players had at least 20 points including All Star snub Karl-Anthony Towns (22), Malik Beasley (23), and surprise rookie Jordan McLaughlin (24). As a team, the Wolves hit 26 three pointers, which equaled the number of attempts the Clippers had. They had a staggering 39 assists on 52 made field goals. We have to give credit to the Timberwolves for knocking down shots and lighting up one of the favorites to win the west, but the Clippers’ perimeter defense has to be better if they expect to make it far into the postseason.
Clippers Win @ Cleveland (133-92)
The Sunday game provided the polar opposite of what happened in Minnesota the day before. Kawhi Leonard sat out the second night of a back-to-back, as has come to be the expectation. Patrick Beverley was still sidelined with injury as well, but Marcus Morris was set to take the court for the first time in a Clippers uniform! The team, specifically Paul George, came out on fire and full of energy. He finished the game with 22 points in only 24 minutes of action, not playing at all in the 4th quarter. He shot an efficient 8-12 from the field including 5-8 from long range. Lou Williams got the starting nod with both Beverley and Kawhi out, and he delivered with 25 points in only 26 minutes. His running mate, Montrezl Harrell poured in his usual 19 off the bench as well while adding nine rebounds and three assists.
Marcus Morris proved to be a good addition, but was not his usual self in his first game with the team. He managed 10 points on 5-12 shooting without knocking down any of his four three point attempts. However, he still played 22 minutes, grabbed four rebounds, three steals, and 2 assists while only committing one turnover. His presence was felt, but his potential has yet to be reached. His unselfish play, length on defense, and post scoring were enough to get all Clippers fans excited about the final product with all members of the team healthy and working well together.
The Clippers have two more games before the All Star Break. Both come on the road on the east coast against premier Eastern Conference teams. Up first is a matchup with the biggest team in the league, the 76ers on Tuesday night. With Kawhi likely back in the lineup, fans will get their first look at the versatility of the new look team when the Kawhi-George-Morris lineup hits the court. Don’t be surprised however if Beverley’s absence spills over into the All Star Break, giving him several more days to recover. Then, right before All Star Weekend gets under way, the Clippers will make one last stop in Boston to take on the young Celtics. Bold prediction: watch for Marcus Morris to have his first big game with the Clippers against his former squad in Boston.