For the only time this season, the Clippers had five consecutive home games in the course of a week. A 3-2 record in those games gave the Clippers their first winning week in a while, but given that none of the five visiting teams had a road record above .500, it's tough not to be disappointed with the results.
Especially given the team's inexcusable loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. The Suns have been playing winning basketball of late, and came into their game with the Clippers having won 8 of 11. However, with Phoenix playing the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back, coach Alvin Gentry decided to give the night off to his
ancient veteran stars, Steve Nash (38) and Grant Hill (39). Phoenix had not won in three previous games this season without Nash, losing by an average of 16 points per game. Gentry was essentially conceding the game to the Clippers, hoping to win the next night back at home. Instead, the Clippers gave away a 12 point fourth quarter lead and were beaten 91-87 in what play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler called the worst loss of the season.
|Monday: Celtics 94, Clippers 85|
|Wednesday: Clippers 96, Hawks 82|
|Thursday: Suns 91, Clippers 87|
|Saturday: Clippers 95, Rockets 91|
|Sunday: Clippers 87, Pistons 83|
After the loss the Clippers held a closed door meeting, keeping the media waiting for more than an hour. Did the meeting have an impact? It's difficult to say -- the Clippers have won two straight since airing out their concerns, but come-from-behind last second wins over an injury-depleted Houston Rockets squad and the 16-28 Detroit Pistons hardly represent the big momentum swing the team needs.
At least the Houston and Detroit wins reversed a disturbing recent trend. Early in the season, the Clippers were winning all the close games behind the fourth quarter excellence of Chris Paul. In recent weeks however, the final seconds had belonged to the Clippers opponents, as L.A. had been 1-6 in games decided by four points or less since February 18. But in back-to-back games over the weekend, Paul was once again the closer extraordinaire as he carried the Clippers to consecutive victories for the first time in a month.
If the back-to-back wins aren't enough to get the Clippers back on track, perhaps an infusion of new blood will do the trick. In a surprise deal at the Trade Deadline buzzer on Thursday, the Clippers acquired the big shooting guard they had long coveted. The deal was not announced until after the deadline had passed, and most analysts had already decreed that the Clippers had chosen to stand pat, but as part of a larger deal that saw Denver and Washington swap centers Nene and JaVale McGee, the Clipper sent little used forward Brian Cook and a future second round draft pick to the Wizards for 6'7" guard Nick Young. Young may or may not be the missing ingredient on a Clippers team that was severely lacking size in the back court, but he is clearly the kind of player they need, and they got him essentially for nothing. The Clippers were more lucky than brilliant to acquire Young -- a perfect storm of circumstances landed him back home in L.A. -- but they're not complaining. Young made his Clippers' debut with nine points and two steals in 29 minutes off the bench Sunday against the Pistons. He'll likely be in the starting lineup in the team's next game, Tuesday in Indiana.
Ah yes, the upcoming schedule. Having just played six games in eight days, the Clippers now are faced with a back-to-back-to-back on the road. It's L.A.'s second B2B2B this season (they went 2-1 the first time), and it completes a brutal stretch of nine games in 12 days. The triple-header starts in Indianapolis Tuesday against a very good Pacers team, then moves to Oklahoma City Wednesday to face the Thunder, the best team in the West, before concluding Thursday in Chris Paul's New Orleans homecoming. The Clippers would be thrilled to go 2-1 on the trip, and it will be tempting to write off the OKC game and conserve energy for the more winnable meeting with the Hornets on Thursday. But as listless as the team has been, and as exhausted as they must already be from the recent non-stop schedule, 0-3 is a distinct possibility on this trip.
The good news is that once the B2B2B concludes, the schedule lightens up to just a normal level of relentlessness as the Clippers return home for a five game home stand to close out the month of March.
Can the Clippers get back to their earlier form for the final third of the season? Can they catch the Lakers in the Pacific Division? Can they hold on to a top four seed in the Western Conference playoffs, or should they be worried about missing the playoffs altogether? We'll know much more about all of those questions next week.
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