The strenuous stretch that Clipper Nation feared is finally upon us. The Los Angeles Clippers are currently hovering around .500 and are missing their two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that either player will return to the lineup until February at the earliest. George is nursing a UCL tear in his elbow. Meanwhile, Leonard is rehabbing his knee. Though, he is making significant progress, according to team consultant Jerry West. But with the two top stars out for the foreseeable future, the current roster needs to step up in order to tread water. While there is uncertainty with COVID taking out players and coaches left and right, I will do my best to attempt January predictions for the Clippers.
January Predictions for the LA Clippers
January 8th – January 14th
It’s safe to say that there are no easy games for the Clippers this season. The slate of games from the 8th to the 14th features contests against the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Pelicans. Starting off with back-to-back brunch games on the weekend, the Clippers will face a challenge early. However, the start time is not the only thing that should worry them. They will be facing arguably two top-three point guards in the league, Ja Morant and Trae Young. Both provide different aspects of attack for their respective teams, and the Clippers must find a way to contain them.
Following those games, the Clippers will face off against Nikola Jokic, who is arguably the best center in the league. How about that for a three-game sequence? The game holds extra weight as the teams are neck-and-neck with each other in the standings. Consequently, they will likely be competing with each other for the rest of the year in terms of positioning in the standings. Hopefully, the team will have improved center depth with Ivica Zubac returning from health and safety protocols, in order to deal with Jokic. It will take more than just the centers though, as the Nuggets’ supporting cast plays hard and executes their offense as well as anyone.
The Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the league, but not against the Clippers. New Orleans has snagged two surprising wins against Los Angeles this season. Look for the team to get some revenge and strive for a win against one of their weakest opponents.
January 15th – January 21st
The next slate of games for the Clippers features the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets (again), and the Philadelphia 76ers. While it does not look too bad, the game against the Pacers is a 12:30 start. One that haunts the Clippers. The last time the Clippers and Spurs played, it was one of the more ugly losses from the team. The Clippers lost by 24 points, with Spurs guard Dejounte Murray notching a triple-double. Additionally, they were outrebounded 66-43. It won’t be easy, especially since they will not have George, but the Clippers will need to bring their A-game if they want to have a shot.
The next three games against the Pacers, Nuggets, and 76ers will rely heavily on the play from the Clippers’ bigs. Domantas Sabonis, Jokic, and Joel Embiid are going to be a handful. The Clippers should have Zubac back and potentially Isaiah Hartenstein. Overall, the center depth will help, but generating quality offense and maintaining their defensive form will be key. Especially given the personnel they currently have.
January 22nd – January 31st
The final slate of games in January will see the Clippers match up with the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers, once again. Though the strength of opponents does not look too intimidating, the Clippers will not experience a lot of rest. Within the 10 day span, the squad plays two back-to-backs and two afternoon games. Not to mention, every single game in the final stretch is on the road.
The Clippers already have wins against the Magic, Heat, and Hornets, which all came down to the wire. However, those games should not be taken into account as rosters will be vastly different come their next matchups. Something to look out for in this stretch will be if Marcus Morris Sr. plays in any second leg of the back-to-backs. He has been the pseudo-star for the team that can be fed in the mid-post and operates. His play lately has been stellar, but it will be interesting to see how much the team will balance his long-term health with the need to win now.
Another thing to look for will be the play of young players Brandon Boston Jr. and Keon Johnson. Boston has struggled lately but still shows promise of an explosive three-level scorer. The Clippers need his scoring punch to keep a consistent offensive attack. In contrast, Johnson provides a unique athletic asset to the squad. His defensive positioning on and off the ball, in addition to his ball-hawking, make him an interesting prospect to watch. Given his increase in playing time. I look forward to seeing his offensive game develop to go along with his already above-average defense. With a lot of games in a short amount of time, anticipate the young guys to get significant experience during this time without a plethora of rotation players.
Final January Predictions
If the Clippers can maintain .500 basketball with the roster they have during this stretch, it’s a win. No game in the NBA is easy, especially with the card that COVID dealt the league. And it’s no telling what the roster will look like with numerous players entering health and safety protocols. However, the Clippers saw some success with the players they were able to sign in Xavier Moon and James Ennis under the hardship exception. Moon displayed a nice burst and off-the-dribble jumper that gave the second unit some offense. Meanwhile, Ennis played like a solid vet in which he competed on defense and cut when off the ball.
January Prediction: Clippers finish the 14-game January stretch 6-8, but Boston and Johnson start to look more comfortable.
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