Clippers-Magic Preview (Dec 14, 2016)

BY AP • December 14, 2016

After a stellar 14-2 start, the Los Angeles Clippers have come back down to earth.

The Clippers have won just four of their past nine games, facing injuries and the usual bumps of an 82-game season as they prepare to visit the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.

The Clippers are not in dire straits by any means. They are as dangerous as ever. Even with Blake Griffin out Saturday, Chris Paul poured in 20 assists and had no turnovers in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Getting Griffin back in the lineup Monday, Los Angeles held on for a 121-120 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a game where the Clippers showed off the potential and the devastating offense that ran through the league early in the season.

But it also showed some of their flaws too -- the defensive lapses and the stagnation of the offense that sometimes slows the team down.

The Clippers are back on the winning track, but things are not quite right still.

"It was a win. I didn't think we played great, but I'll take the win," Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers told the Orange County Register following Monday's win.

The Clippers still rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. That typically means the team is among the very best in the league.

Since Thanksgiving, though, the Clippers have been much more middle of the road -- ninth in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating. The certainly explains some of the slippage and the missteps the team has made in the last few weeks.

L.A. is hoping the three-game road trip to the East Coast -- all against losing teams in the Southeast Division -- can help the team keep moving back in the right direction and back toward contention.

The Clippers' opponent Wednesday is doing some soul-searching of its own.

The Magic entered last week with the third best defense in the league by defensive rating. This came as they won three of the first four games in a five-game road trip.

The defense slipped last week, though. Orlando played four games in five nights to complete an eight-games-in-12-days stretch and struggled defensively. The Magic fell to 12th in the league in a matter of a week, giving up 100 points in all four games. It was the first time they had allowed 100 points in consecutive games since mid-November.

"That's the biggest thing in the last four games," Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. "We let our guard down for whatever reason on the defensive end. We have to return to form. It's got to happen a lot mentally rather than having three hard days of practice. There's still not a lot of practice time. We have to get that end of the floor performing at a higher level."

The Magic did not quite get their defense under control and back to an elite level in a 131-120 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.

But, with just a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Magic allowed just 24 points in the final 12 minutes to get some breathing room and protect their lead.

For them, it will take more than a quarter of strong defense to hold off the star-powered Clippers as the Magic still seek some consistency and return to form.

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