The Los Angeles Clippers have lost three straight games in head-scratching fashion. What will they have to do in fix things in wake of their Thursday matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Los Angeles Clippers were leading the Western Conference on Nov. 23. They held a 14-2 record, a half-game ahead of the Golden State Warriors. The team was beating opponents by an average margin of 13.8 points per game.
The team that has been on the constant dark-horse pick as a championship contender over recent seasons seemed to be on its way to breaking through.
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It seems the breakthrough has hit a rough patch. The Clippers are four games into a six-game road trip. They have lost their last three games, all against Eastern Conference opponents.
The Clippers fell to 14-5, third in the West behind the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. That is one spot better than they found themselves at the end of last season. One could say this symbolically puts them back on the outside of the contender conversation.
The 108-97 loss at the Detroit Pistons saw the Clippers fall behind 31-14 to start the game. They were able to crawl back and take an 84-82 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Pistons would pull away again and cruise to victory.
The Clippers’ loss came despite Indiana not having All-Star Paul George available. He was out with a sore back.
Things truly fell apart Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. The Clippers blew an 18-point third-quarter lead to fall in double overtime, 127-122. L.A. allowed Nets guard Sean Kilpatrick to have a career night. He put up 38 points and 14 rebounds for Brooklyn.
The highlight — or lowlight, depending on how you look at it — of the night was head coach Doc Rivers’ ejection late in the first overtime.
The ejection was a result of being handed a technical foul for walking too far out of the coach’s box, then receiving a second one for arguing with referee Ken Mauer.
The ejection was a symbolic boiling point for Rivers and Clippers Nation in response to the team’s recent play.
While each loss was a snowflake, the single commonality was a lack of energy for the full 48 (or 58 in the case of last night) minutes.
Complacency put them behind early and late at Detroit, saw them barely score against a George-less Indiana team and blow a double-digit lead to Jeremy Lin-less Brooklyn.
“I thought we lost our respect for the game. I thought we lost our humility. I thought we were playing great, we got up, we got cool, we stopped moving the ball. We went showtime, and I think when that happens you deserve to lose the game. I really do”.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan even noticed the decline in the team’s play. He also spoke to the heart of the issue in his comments to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk
“I think we are smelling ourselves a little bit. We haven’t done —-. Nothing. We were number one in the West for a couple of weeks? That don’t mean nothing. At all. I feel like we took that for granted. We thought we were a lot better than we really are. We got to continue to get better and have respect for the game.”
The stars played well against Brooklyn despite the loss. Jordan finished the game with 21 points and 23 rebounds. This was his biggest games of the season, coming off of two games where he had fewer touches than normal.
Jordan had a 17.3 percent usage rate in Tuesday’s loss compared to 11.3 percent in the previous two games.
Chris Paul had a triple double — 26 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds. This output was particularly big for him. He had struggled in the previous two losses, shooting 5-for-20 from the field and 1-of-10 on three-pointers over those games.
Blake Griffin sat out Tuesday’s game for scheduled rest. He had been one of the better performers in the two games he played during this skid. Griffin averaged 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists over those two games.
Despite this stumbling block, the Clippers are still a dominant team when they’re firing on all cylinders. It’s these string of games that help contending teams understand that the championship isn’t won in November.
There is plenty of time to turn things around, but the next game will be a big challenge. Their next matchup is Thursday at the Cleveland Cavaliers on TNT. The Cavaliers also found themselves on the wrong end against the inferior team on Tuesday.
The Milwaukee Bucks dispatched the Cavaliers 118-101 in Milwaukee. The Bucks were led by a phenomenal performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo. He finished the night with 34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five steals.
Before Tuesday’s loss, Cleveland was 13-2 and defeating teams by 9.2 points per game. They will certainly look to turn things around against a top flight team such as the Clippers.
The Clippers, conversely, will also look to turn things around after three lethargic efforts on the road. They certainly have the talent and self-awareness to make the change. It will be a matter of if or when they can reactivate the switch that led them to their hot start to the season.