Los Angeles Clippers: Second Tough Loss Complicates Playoff Picture

The Los Angeles Clippers were one game out of fourth place entering Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz. After two tough losses, they are now closer to the sixth.

The Los Angeles Clippers were in a good place prior to Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz. They had won four of their last five games and appeared to be in position to take fourth place from the Jazz.

Los Angeles had won 17 of their last 18 meetings against Utah before their last meeting.

Their hot streak against the Jazz did not continue, however, as the Clippers lost 114-108 on Monday night. The Clippers still hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series. However, the loss did leave the Clippers two games behind Utah in the standings.

After a tough 97-96 loss Wednesday to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Clippers are now three games behind the Jazz in the standings and only 1½ games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for sixth place.

While the Clippers could gain ground against the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, a loss would push them closer to the bottom of the playoff picture and raise a number of questions about the team going forward.

Surprising Offensive Showcase against Utah

The first two Clippers-Jazz matchups were defensive slugfests. Neither team scored more than 90 points in the two contests. The Clippers won 88-75 on Oct. 30 and then won 88-72 on Feb. 13.

Given that Utah plays at the league’s slowest pace (per Basketball-Reference), it would follow that Monday night’s game was likely to be another low-scoring affair.

While the game was played at a slow pace, both teams were on fire in Utah’s 114-108 win. Both teams had a True Shooting Percentage better than 60 percent, with Utah shooting an incredible 65.0 percent True Shooting and the Clippers just behind them at 61.3 percent.

Although both teams scored effectively throughout the game, Utah pulled away from Los Angeles in the third quarter. The Jazz shot 76.5 percent from the floor and made all six of their three-pointers.

They were able to find good shots by keeping the ball in motion, and took advantage of nearly every opportunity:

The Clippers scored 30 points in the third quarter themselves, but it was not enough to hold off Utah’s furious charge. Los Angeles had a seven-point lead at halftime; that turned into a three-point Jazz lead by the end of the third quarter.

This loss was not a death blow to the Clippers’ chances at home-court advantage, but it did make their road there significantly more difficult. They could have secured a season-series victory, but instead they will have to wait until their March 25 contest against the Jazz.

That game will be played in Los Angeles, a big advantage for the Clippers. However, the season series remains in question, a question that could have been answered on Monday night.

Scoring Struggles Against Bucks

The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 3 as part of their rough stretch after the All-Star break. After their loss to the Jazz, they had a chance at redemption Wednesday night.

Instead, the Clippers lost a 97-96 heartbreaker as Blake Griffin missed a shot at the buzzer. Griffin could have fed Marreese Speights for an easy baseline dunk, but he instead opted for a tough hook shot that he left just short of the rim.

The real story of the game, however, was Chris Paul. Paul struggled all night to be effective against Matthew Dellavedova. He made just two of his 10 shots and had seven assists, but also six turnovers.

Paul is normally a paragon of efficiency in terms of both shooting and keeping possession of the ball. His True Shooting Percentage this season is 60.7 percent and his Assist/Turnover Ratio is better than three-to-one for the 12th consecutive season.

While this game is certainly an outlier for Paul, his poor performance made the difference in this game.

Looking Forward

The Los Angeles Clippers have a relatively easy schedule to close out the season. Only five of their final 13 games are against teams with better than .500 records. Furthermore, they play nine of those 13 at home and one “away” game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

While the Clippers do have an easy stretch to close out the season, they have a tough road ahead if they want to get home-court advantage. Third place is now out of the question and Utah holds a significant three-game advantage over the Clippers for fourth place.

The Clippers will have to win their final game against the Jazz to even have a hope of taking over the fourth spot in the West.

Although two tough losses should not lead to full-scale panic, these two losses did complicate the playoff picture for the Los Angeles Clippers. They could help themselves get back on track with a win Thursday night in Denver.

However, these two games have already done a lot of damage to their chance of getting home-court advantage. The Clippers will have to hope that they can take advantage of their soft schedule to make up that ground before the playoffs begin.

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