Monday marked the second meeting between Los Angeles’ two NBA teams, the Clippers and the Lakers. This seemed as good a time as any to evaluate how the Clippers have been looking in a season where they lost both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. This week’s match against the Lakers provided a good example of the Clippers’ playing style this year.
Throughout the game, the Clippers kept it close, but found themselves trailing 89-87 entering the fourth quarter. The deficit they faced can be explained by a less than enthusiastic attitude on defense. Multiple times in the third frame, Lakers forward Brandon Ingram was able to sneak his way into the paint for an easy dunk. A lack of communication and movement on the Clippers’ part allowed these easy points to occur.
Defense has been a problem that has plagued the Clippers all year. Opponents are able to score with relative ease against them, as Los Angeles ranks 20th in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions per game. However, when the Clippers are motivated on the defensive end, good things happen. Which brings us back to the game.
Tied 89-89 a minute into the fourth, the Lakers embarked on a 12-4 thanks to the combined efforts of Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma. The Clippers responded immediately with the help of Lou Williams, who has been the biggest asset acquired in the trade that sent Paul to the Houston Rockets.
Williams piled on six points in a 17-4 run that gave the Clippers a 110-105 lead. “Sweet Lou,” as he is also known, scored 42 points in the game, two shy of his career high. The Clippers snapped a nine-game losing streak, and have won all three games since Williams was inserted into the starting lineup. This should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as their opponents have been the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, and the Lakers. Combined the three have 16 wins.
Okay, back to the game. With just under four minutes left, and the Clippers leading 112-110, Blake Griffin had to be helped to the locker room after injuring his knee. He finished the game with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Williams ensured the Clippers finished the game strong, scoring the team’s final eight points en route to a 120-115 victory over their hometown rivals.
Losing Griffin for any extended amount of time may be too much for the Clippers to overcome. He has been the team’s best offensive weapon, scoring 23 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 54 percent. He is also hauling in eight rebounds per game and dishing out five assists as well, acting as the offense’s engine.
It’s an offense that could use a little fine-tuning. Watching the match against the Lakers, it was obvious to the audience that the Clippers rely on isolation plays, hoping one of their scorers can will the ball into the basket. This results in others standing around and occasionally setting ball screens. Ball movement suffers in Los Angeles’ offensive style, and unsurprisingly, they rank 27th in the league in team assists, with just 20 a game.
A quick remedy would be to get Deandre Jordan involved more on offense, something that would require Jordan to diversify his offensive game as well. He is incredibly efficient at scoring, boasting the highest true shooting percentage among all starters, at 66 percent. However, he is just averaging 10 points per game, his lowest mark since the 2012-2013 season.
Defenses know that if they don’t allow Jordan a clean look at the hoop, he doesn’t have enough offensive tools to create a shot. He also has very little range, giving opposing centers the opportunity to hunker down in the paint and make driving to the basket that much harder for the Clippers.
Griffin’s knee injury is just one ailment in a long list for Los Angeles this season. It began with point guard Milos Teodosic, who was brought in to be the team’s main ball distributor. He injured his plantar fascia in his left foot on October 21 against the Suns, and has yet to play since.
Teodosic thrived in handing out dimes, accounting for 31 percent of all assists that occurred with him on the floor. In his short time in the NBA, he had already wowed viewers with a few nifty passes. He is expected to return this season, and will greatly improve the Clippers’ ball movement when he is back on the court.
The injury bug continued to bite, as newly acquired small forward Danilo Gallinari was lost to a left hip contusion against the Heat on November 5. Gallinari was expected to provide a big scoring boost to the starting five, and was doing well in his role. He averaged 13 points on a true shooting percentage of 48 percent in the nine games that he played. He, too, is expected to return to the lineup, although there is no exact date for when this will occur.
One of the biggest blows the Clippers suffered on the injury front was losing Patrick Beverley for the season with a knee injury. Beverley, who was brought in with Williams in the Houston trade, is known throughout the league as one of the best defenders at the guard position.
Although he was allowing 107 points per 100 possessions while on the court, Beverley’s presence meant that offenses facing him would have to account for the best wing scorer to be stifled throughout the game. The 12 points Beverley provided per game in his time with the team was an added bonus to his defensive prowess.
As should have been expected, the Clippers are looking a little lost as they try to adjust to life without Paul. Injuries have ravaged a roster that still provides plenty of potential, so it is hard to determine whether Los Angeles will continue to struggle. The team has obvious flaws, but those can easily be fixed with proper game-planning and on-court enthusiasm. The season is young, and it will be interesting to see how the Clippers evolve throughout.