The Los Angeles Clippers will make the playoffs and they are almost a lock to claim a top-five seed. Yet there’s a good deal of concern as the playoffs approach.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro bashed his team after they turned in a lackluster performance during a 109-106 loss to the Pacers on Monday, April 1. The head coach does have the right to call out his team’s effort. After all, he is the head coach–for now, at least.
But Chris Paul, who shot 2-of-12 on Monday, does still run the show and the All-Star point guard only played four fourth-quarter minutes. Blake Griffin played only two fourth-quarter minutes. And outside of those two, none of the starters sniffed the final period of play.
This, my friends, is what you would call earning your minutes, throwing reputations and egos out the window. All Clippers’ reserves had positive plus-minus ratings, so Del Negro chose them over his starters, none of which had a positive plus-minus. He has a point, just not one that’s popular among the fans.
Obviously, the Clips can’t find their early season groove. They’re 4-6 over their last 10 games and look like a distant resemblance of the Clippers that started the season 8-2.
Los Angeles’ problems aren’t so much offensive as they are defensive and this isn’t much of a surprise. They haven’t been a dominant overall defensive team at any point this year. Their 101 defensive rating is solid, yes, but that number is misrepresented by the number of turnovers they forced earlier in the season. To put that into perspective, LA’s defensive rating since March 19 is 107 and they’re forcing fewer turnovers. So, fewer easy points, and worse, less “Lob City” opportunities.
Offensively, the Clippers are still scoring. Actually, their overall offensive rating (107) is exactly the same as their offensive rating since March 19. And the same trends still exist–the 3-point ball is shaky as they rank in the middle of the pack in that department for the year and over their last 10 games.
Still, the Clippers half-court offense isn’t very fluid. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless discussed this topic on ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday, April 2, and I would have to agree. Chris Paul is penetrating, like the typical Chris Paul, but he has nowhere to go with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan clogging the paint. This means fewer kick-outs to shooters, fewer easy dump-offs to the big men and overall, confusion.
So when the Clippers aren’t throwing lob passes, their offense is by no means dominant–at the moment. Granted, they do rank eighth in the league in fast-break points per game and there’s no team that can stop that train. The playoffs will, though.
In the playoffs, teams value each and every possession. Each possession is meaningful. It’s not an environment to fast break constantly and history proves that fast-breaking, mediocre defensive teams very rarely succeed in the postseason.
The Clippers can do some damage in the first round. It’s too premature to dismiss that prophecy because they’ve shown how good they can be.
However, one of two things must happen: They start knocking down 3-pointers consistently or Griffin starts consistently knocking down mid-range jumpers. Both would space the floor, which would enable Paul to be Chris Paul.
Of the two, an uptick in 3-point production seems more realistic. Griffin is a 36 percent mid-range shooter and the Clippers have the personnel to catch fire from beyond the arc. Regardless, one of those two areas has to improve for the Clippers to be competitive in the playoffs.
If the Clippers suffer a first-round exit, it’s extremely likely that Del Negro gets the boot.