Clippers

Clippers Controlling What They Can Control

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With Kawhi Leonard being injured to start the year, things seemed less than ideal.

However, the Los Angeles Clippers were dealt a hand even worse than expected. In spite of all the injuries, this team has made a valiant effort to stay in the playoff race. The effort of the players and coaching staff deserves celebration, but the team still has a job to do.

REMAINING GAMES

Less than ten games remain for the Clippers, who, according to Tankathon, have one of the toughest schedules remaining. Fortunately, the Clippers’ hard work gives them a comfortable cushion above the Lakers and Pelicans. Another positive is the Lakers have an even tougher schedule remaining.

With the Clippers being locked into the eighth seed, they can now set their eyes on getting ready for the play-in. The Clippers’ grueling next four games come against the Sixers, Jazz, Bulls and Bucks. The silver lining, however, is that these games allow coach Tyronn Lue to try out his famous small-ball lineups against teams who boast All-Star-caliber big men.

FEAST OR FAMINE

It feels like every Clippers game is either a tightly contested, down-to-the-wire battle or a 30-point blowout loss. This is due to the Clippers’ biggest challenge– generating offense without their two stars.

Since February 1st, the Clippers have had one of the ten-worst offensive ratings and one of the slowest paces in the league. While some teams excel at a slow pace like the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, those teams have offenses built around star power, which the Clippers eagerly wait the return of theirs.

One thing the Clippers do have, though, is great shooters. 

Lue has always been a big proponent of playing with pace and generating looks from penetration, dating back to the handful of years he spent coaching LeBron James.

Playing at this slow of a pace does not suit the Clippers. Their strengths lie in three-point shooting and attacking mismatches. They would benefit greatly playing more of a run and gun-style offense where they can use their length on defense to force turnovers and create quality looks in transition.

The Clippers struggle mightily to generate shots at the rim. They have some of the lowest field-goal attempts from under five feet from the rim. But this is expected to happen when you are missing two star players who excel at collapsing the opposition’s defense.

Even without Kawhi and Paul George returning, the Clippers have a simple solution to this problem; the possible return of Norman Powell.

RETURN OF THE NORM

Powell directly addresses some of the critical issues with the Clippers’ current roster. Powell is an excellent slashing guard who can stretch the floor and make the right reads in high-pressure half-court situations. His constant attacks to the rim will open up some easier looks for his teammates. Powell’s slashing will greatly benefit his teammate Luke Kennard, who can struggle to find shooting opportunity’s for himself.

The Clippers like to run a lot of pistol action, especially with Amir Coffey. It gets him downhill, creating easier drives to the rim. Powell is excellent at running this action– he can provide a lethal scoring punch that demands help defenders to have all eyes on him.

Clipper fans should be elated if Powell can develop chemistry with Isaiah Hartenstein. Similar to Powell’s old teammate, Jusuf Nurkic, Hartenstein is great at running handoffs, catching the ball in the middle of the floor and making quick passes.

Another compelling aspect of Powell’s game is his quick decision-making. When running off screens or attacking closeouts, it doesn’t take Powell many dribbles for him to get to his spots. The former UCLA Bruin’s skill set is very complimentary to starting point guard Reggie Jackson.

He can make life easier for Reggie by providing another ballhandling option and being ready to attack zone defense and closeouts.

REGAINING THEIR DEFENSIVE IDENTITY

The inconsistent offense certainly has played a part in the Clippers’ defense dropping off a bit. While the Clippers remain with a top-10 defensive rating for the whole year, they have had a middle-of-the-pack defensive rating in the NBA since February 1st.

There has been a recent trend of opposing teams’ frontcourts flat-out dominating the Clippers. Rudy Gobert, Pascal Siakam and Evan Mobley have all had excellent games imposing their will in the paint, getting way too many easy looks.

The offensive success of the two big men, Hartenstein and Ivica Zubac, is intertwined with their defensive performance. In Zubac’s case, he becomes much more engaged on the offensive end when he is moving his feet, blocking shots and snagging defensive rebounds. In Hartenstein’s case, his defense determines how much playing time he will get. He is excellent at contesting shots at the rim, but he needs to work on staying out of foul trouble.

On March 9th, the Washington Wizards had the Clippers returning to their playoff roots. The Clips decided to go small in a close game where Kristaps Porzingis was playing very well. Down two points following a clutch three by Nicolas Batum, the Wizards gave the ball to Porzingis in the high post.  Porzingis was guarded by Coffey, who is eight inches shorter than him. Despite this, Coffey forces him into a contested fadeaway jumper that clanks off the rim, helping secure a Clippers win.

CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Coach Lue has done an extraordinary job with what he has been given this year. The expectations for any team missing the two players it has built around would certainly be to finish near the bottom of the standings.

Fans and players alike should focus on things one game at a time. While thinking about Kawhi and PG coming back can be entertaining, sadly it doesn’t make them come back any faster.

To quote coach Phil Jackson from his book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.

“The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”

About Josh Douglas

Josh is a fan of shot creators, big guys that play like guards, and on-court accessories. He is an avid supporter of all things Clippers and 76ers. Josh writes about the L.A. Clippers.

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