The LA Clippers fell 126-103 to the Utah Jazz, placing them in the 8th seed. Superstar wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George did not suit up as it was the second leg of a back-to-back. The team has dropped eight of its last nine. And with a little under half the season remaining, it does not look good. The Clippers also have the second-hardest schedule remaining. What is equally disappointing is that they played the second-easiest so far and don’t have the record to show for it. With stars sitting out and guys in and out of the lineup, players are being put in situations that are out of their comfort zone. It was not just last night’s loss, but others before that felt lifeless. So it’s time to ask, is the Clippers’ spirit dead?
Is the Clippers’ Spirit Dead?
Coming into the season, many touted the Clippers as championship favorites. But over halfway through the season, they have given no reason for that label. It’s not just the injuries. But the lifelessness that appears in the game. Running sets like it’s a shootaround, missed rotations, and lack of boxouts. It appears something is weighing on the team. One can argue that the stars not being available is the major reason. And it’s true. Without having top guys play, Ty Lue cannot get a sense of what lineups work. Especially if he can’t experiment with them.
However, Lue does not escape criticism. Throughout the season, he rolled out lineups with three guards. Thus, holding back the potential of the roster nicknamed ‘Wingstop.’ Another odd decision was the choice to keep Robert Covington on the bench in lieu of inferior alternatives. Last season, Covington was one of the most important Clippers and a significant reason why they were still in the Play-In hunt. However, Lue is opting to use Covington more, especially with key guys out. Though he is not the best on-ball defender, his quick hands, rebounding, and elite help-side defense make him a weapon. One that should definitely be used in small-ball.
The stars also do not get completely off the hook. Leonard has played in 15 of the last 20 games, which is a drastic improvement considering the injuries and recovery he dealt with at the start of the season. Leonard is also returning back to All-NBA form, averaging 28.5 points on 50-44-92 splits. He doesn’t appear to turn the corner or explode as well as the Leonard of old, but perhaps it will return later.
On the other hand, George has missed a good chunk of games due to a hamstring issue. Even when he was healthy, there were too many moments where he disappeared during the game. Only to be aggressive later on to make up for it, or sometimes not at all. George needs to keep his foot on the gas pedal consistently throughout the game. He is too talented and too good to give up stretches like that.
Whether it’s the stars out, questionable rotations, or the abysmal offense, this team looks mentally drained. The players are asked to be put in different situations in almost every other game. In addition, even when most guys are healthy, the offense has still been bad. They are the fourth-worst offense in the league, even with the talent they have. They severely lack athleticism, speed, and overall juice. Players will not get younger, and change doesn’t happen overnight. Hopefully, Lawrence Frank and the rest of the front office can make a season-saving trade that will inject life into this team. However, if nothing is done, the season will be known as a championship pursuit that was dead on arrival.