The Los Angeles Clippers came out of the All Star break leading the Pacific Division by a game and a half over the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, the Clippers had led the division, at times only by percentage points, for seven weeks, ever since defeating the Lakers back on January 14. But losses in two of their first three games after the break left the Lakers knocking on the door. When the Lakers beat the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon, the Lakers took over first place in the division - but only for a few hours. When the Clippers were able to pull off an overtime win in Houston later that night, they regained the division lead.
But it looks like it's going to be a dogfight, and the Clippers are not playing their best basketball at the moment.
The week opened with a home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Clippers seemed to be in control of the game, opening up a ten point lead in the first quarter and staying on top into the fourth. But Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley simply went off on the Clippers in the fourth quarter, neither missing a shot, as the Wolves buried the Clippers down the stretch. Unfortunately, although the specific performance of Williams and Beasley may have been outliers, it pointed up a basic problem with the Clippers this season -- they're not a particularly good defensive team.
|Tuesday: Timberwolves 109, Clippers 97|
|Thursday: Clippers 108, Kings 100|
|Friday: Suns 81, Clippers 78|
|Saturday: Clippers 105, Rockets 103 (OT)|
Thursday brought the first day of March, and with it the opening of a six game road trip. March is going to be a brutal month for the Clippers, as the relatively light schedule they've played as compared to most of the rest of the NBA catches up to them. The Clippers play 20 games over the course of 31 days in March, beginning with six road games in nine days.
The trip got off to a good start in Sacramento. The score was tied at halftime, but the Clippers began to assert their will in the second half. They put the game away with a 20 to 8 fourth quarter run. Better still, while the Clippers had been relying on the individual brilliance of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to carry them, they got a balanced team effort against the Sacramento Kings, with both Caron Butler and Mo Williams breaking out of shooting slumps.
And then the entire team went into a shooting slump the next night in Phoenix. Playing in the second game of a back to back, the Clippers had zero energy the entire game. As it happens, the Phoenix Suns were almost as bad, and left the door wide open for the Clippers to steal a win in Phoenix, where they had lost eight straight. Alas, the Clippers didn't have it Friday night, losing a very winnable game. The Clippers were outrebounded by one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, and the Suns took 29 free throws compared to just 9 for the Clippers. The biggest culprit in the Clippers lackluster performance was Griffin, who made just 6 of 19 shots from the field, and was outrebounded by Channing Frye of the Suns 14-7.
After losing in Phoenix, a win in Houston was imperative, and Chris Paul wasn't going to let them lose. In a close game throughout, Paul took over down the stretch and into overtime. He finished with 28 points and 10 assists, scoring 22 of his 28 after halftime.
The Clippers have three games left on this trip, in Minnesota Monday, New Jersey Wednesday and San Antonio Friday, before returning to Staples Center to face the Golden State Warriors next Sunday. If they wish to still be leading the Pacific Division when they return, they'll need to start playing better, especially on the defensive end, after allowing 100 points or more to three out of four opponents this week.
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