After beginning the season 2-0, the Los Angeles Clippers have issues that need to be cleaned up after dropping three straight. They flew to Oklahoma after their home opener loss to Phoenix when things looked to possibly get easier according to their schedule, they dropped two straight against the winless Thunder.
Yes, they have been without superstar Kawhi Leonard in both those losses, so are they counting on Leonard to help save them when he does finally become 100% or close to it?
Having high expectations from the beginning is a lot to ask of any player coming off an ACL tear and Leonard can’t fix all the issues this team has been struggling with five games into the season. He has only played in two of the team’s five games and did not start in either of them. Head coach Ty Lue is trying to bring him along slowly and with the depth on this roster and the experience, they should be able to find ways to win games, especially against lesser competition.
But it hasn’t been shown yet in this early season.
So there are few reasons I see this team struggling recently.
1. Slow Starts
In two of three of their losses, they have trailed by double digits in the opening quarter at some point. Phoenix jumped on them 11-0 to start and led by as many as 18, and in their second matchup with the Thunder they trailed again by as many as 18 in the opening quarter (30-12) and had to fight back in the 2nd.
Coach Ty Lue spoke about his team’s slow start after the home opener against Phoenix, “We have to be better starting games, and I’ve gotta do a better job offensively of making sure they understand what we want and what we are trying to do.”
The slow start against Phoenix might be more understandable because they have a lot of continuity and are led by one of the best floor generals in the game in Chris Paul, who is the main reason his team gets quality shots night in and night out. They made the NBA Finals two seasons ago, and they are coming off a league high 64 wins last season.
After the loss just a few days prior to this same Thunder team, the cause for concern was the slow start in their second match up. They welcomed back All-Star Paul George to the lineup after he missed the first match up because of an illness, but they didn’t get that spark from George as he missed all four of his 3-pt attempts and finished with just 10 points in 31 minutes.
This league is a game of runs, but if the Clippers continue to find themselves in a double-digit deficit early, it’s going to be difficult to continue to give themselves a chance to win.
2. Giving the ball away
Not many teams can win games at this level when they consistently turn the ball over, and that’s exactly what the Clippers have done in these three straight losses.
They had almost just as many turnovers (39) as they did assists (42) in the two games against the Thunder. They have a total of 54 over the past three games, and it’s been disastrous. They found a way to get a win in the first game against the Los Angeles Lakers despite having more turnovers (23) than assists (18).
“The live turnovers are killing us,” coach Lue said after the back-to-back losses to the Thunder. “We’ve got to just clean that up.”
They have 90 total turnovers in these first five games and their average of 17.2/gm is last in the league. They have to minimize their turnovers and stop giving away possessions.
3. Defense Struggling
The strength of the team coming into the season and what coach Ty Lue wanted to lean on every night is defense, but they’ve had their inconsistencies.
Currently their points allowed (108.8/ppg) is reasonable, but they haven’t seemed to make the difference defensively people would expect with all the talent on the perimeter and the versatility everyone raved about during the offseason.
Trying to keep the ball in front of them has been up & down so far this season and it showed in both games against the Thunder. Coach Lue even resulted in playing more zone defense in those two games to try and make things uncomfortable for the Thunder.
“We’ve just got to be able to guard the point of attack,” coach Ty Lue said after Thursday’s loss. “They’re just lining us up one-on-one, and guys are able to get whatever they want.”
Shorthanded without Marcus Morris Sr. (personal reasons) and Leonard (load management) against the Thunder might have played a role in the lack of rotations and schemes. With two of their better defenders out of the lineup it’s difficult to properly evaluate any team, but what we’ve seen the past couple of games is not the same energy and effort we saw from this team that had to play with that edge, because they were without their two top players last season.
Being solid every night on the defensive end, is something coach Lue didn’t question.
This Clippers team is picked by some people to be the biggest threat to the world champion Golden State Warriors in the western conference. If they want to get anywhere near those expectations, they have to play like a team looking for respect and not a team that people expect to win 51.5 games (5th most) this season.
Next Game: Sunday 10/30 vs New Orleans
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