When Doc Rivers was brought in to coach the Los Angeles Clippers, the next step was supposed to be taken. The Clippers, coming off of a franchise-high 56 wins, ended up one-upping that record by one win by the Rivers-led team in his first season. An enormous amount of confidence propelled this Clippers team and was seen as a tremendous threat to any team.
We all know what happened next: the Donald Sterling scandal takes place, stealing the Clippers’ thunder while adding an unnecessary distraction leading to a second-round exit to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer then purchased the team, ushering in a new era. This was the year they got back on track to make the “big jump.” Through 51 games, it doesn’t look like they’re anything close to that.
Although Los Angeles has a 33-19 record, two games behind the 4th seed, they haven’t been the team they expect themselves to be. After starting the season off red-hot, sporting a winning streak of nine games, Los Angeles slowed down significantly. After their nine-game winning streak as snapped, the Clips went 17-14, currently on a four-game losing streak after falling to the Thunder this afternoon.
Their spurts of winning have been the overwhelming factor for why Los Angeles’ record is how it is. However, their most recent winning streak of six games might be over-glorifying this team. Los Angeles’ win streak came against teams with a combined winning percentage of .405, Phoenix being the only team above .500.
Winning against teams you’re supposed to win against only helps with playoff chances, but winning against playoff bound teams, elite teams, can prove a team is prepped for a deep run. Los Angeles hasn’t been doing that. Of their 18 losses, the teams combined for a winning percentage of .581, four losses coming from teams below even.
Lob City just can’t get over the hump. The trend as of late seems to be defeating a quality team and following the win with a bad loss/string of losses. After defeating San Antonio 105-85, Los Angeles faltered in their Eastern Conference road-trip. Two close losses to Brooklyn and Cleveland seemed to be morale killers as they got beaten decisively against Toronto.
Where does Los Angeles go from here? The Clippers haven’t looked anything close to a championship team but the roster has too much talent to miss the playoffs. This is the curious case of a team stuck in limbo.
There’s no doubt Los Angeles is in win-now mode, much like most Western Conference teams. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have been outstanding per usual which lays the foundation for the immediate future, having them both signed for potentially the next three seasons. It gets cloudy from there; Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes both hold team options and DeAndre Jordan is set to become a free agent, who is projected to command a large contract.
Blake Griffin’s latest setback has Los Angeles scrambling even more. Griffin will undergo surgery on Monday to remove a staph infection in his right elbow and will be reevaluated after the All-Star Break. It can be argued that Griffin has had more of an impact than Paul. With averages of 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, on 50.1% FG and 71.8% FG, Griffin has been LA’s go-to guy. His impact on the offensive side has become unexpectedly elite. Out of the qualifying forwards, Griffin is third in assists per game. LeBron James (7.1 assists) and Tyreke Evans (6.0 assists) are ahead of Griffin.
Griffin provides a level of production that can be matched by few in the NBA, leaving Los Angeles with a big issue on their hands. Spencer Hawes will most likely be handed a large chunk of Griffin’s minutes but the drop-off will be tremendous. Hawes is averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds on 42.4% shooting in 17 minutes.
There have been rumors swirling about a potential KG-Doc reunion in the event of a buyout in Brooklyn. Another New York athlete is surrounded by buyout rumors. Amar’e Stoudemire has been mulling whether or not to request a buyout from the Knicks. Would LA willing to make a run for him as well?
Luckily, with the All-Star Game nearing, Griffin will miss three games this week, with their next game coming on the 19th against San Antonio. With time on their side for now, Los Angeles must fight to survive. Two out of their next 10 opponents are under .500, which could spell doom if the Clippers cannot manage to win some games against elite opponents.
Los Angeles is entering dangerous territory and are being forced to fight for survival. Their record right now might be their saving grace as they’ve built a small but comfortable 5.5 game lead over 9th seed New Orleans. Los Angeles won’t roll over for any team, but their competitive grit will keep them in the playoff race, unlikely going very far.
That will complete a full circle and the Clippers will be stuck in limbo once again.