Los Angeles — Shaking off the remnants of a tough loss to the Lakers the night before, the L.A. Clippers bounced back against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies with a 98-91 win.
It wasn’t long ago that I called for a throwback uniform night for the Clippers. The prospects of baby blue unis, instead of the regular white kit with cursive writing, was too good to pass up in my imaginary world where I have influence over such matters.
Last night, the Clippers and Grizzlies treated us to what the NBA termed as a “Hardwood Classic,” resurrecting not just the uniforms, but also the names of former ABA basketball clubs.
Los Angeles became the home of the L.A. Stars and Memphis represented the Tams in one of the ugliest amalgamation of jersey/shorts uniform I have ever seen. In fact, through the first two quarters of the game, it was hard not to pay attention to the solid yellow jersey contrasting with the solid green shorts—it really didn’t do any favors to the powder blue and red threads the Stars were sporting.
While Vinny Del Negro’s team successfully bounced back from a difficult loss with a win, it must be recognized that the Clippers continue to struggle in several key areas which often allow the opposition to get back into the game. After building a 16-point lead early in the game, and with an opportunity to make a statement on national T.V. about the state of Lob City, the Clippers gradually allowed Memphis to make it a competitive game, at times losing the lead.
Lob City might be appealing, but the instant gratification of impressive dunks via lobs won’t do much for your win/loss record in the long run if weaknesses aren’t addressed. Vinny Del Negro and his staff must do a better job of preparing the Clippers if they are to live up to the expectations of their roster talent.
With that in mind, here are a few observations from last night’s game.
L.A. Clippers Should Change Their Name to L.A. Stars and Keep the Uniforms
The Clipper name is more stigma than brand. Despite the raw athleticism of the current roster, the experience of El Generalissimo (Chris Paul) and Mr. Big Shot, the cursive writing on the front of the jersey shines like a bona fide stamp of misery. Call it sports trauma, but I often get nervous whenever I see any of the players landing awkwardly after hustling for the ball, often waiting in anxious anticipation for a grimacing visage that will confirm the curse of the Clippers name.
While the whimsical gods of karma fleetingly flirt with the other L.A. team, the Clippers organization should consider changing their name and their brand.
How much cooler, and more appropriate for The City of Angels, were the uniforms from last night? Across the chest a prominent and proud “Los Angeles.” On the side, red and white trim with red stars. A much stronger, prouder look for a surging team with a new mentality.
Unrealistic as it might be, I hereby call for Donald Sterling and the powers that be to re-brand Clippers basketball for the sake of its fans. Don’t want to overdo it by changing the name? Fine, at least go back to the throwback uniforms that also featured baby blue.
Chris Paul: Still Rusty, Still the General
El Generalissimo played in only his second game after returning from a hamstring injury. The impact of Chris Paul’s game is largely contingent upon his ability to break down defenses when he drives to the hoop. Similar to Derrick Rose, Chris Paul is most effective when he’s attacking the hoop. There are too many problems that are created after he flies by his defender, and with the current weaponry of Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye, the Clippers are in a prime position to exploit the spreading of the floor with Chris Paul leading the attack.
Last night, as was the case the previous night against the Lakers, Chris’ contribution was less than optimal. He missed a few open layups after having beat the defender off the dribble. Despite the rust, it’s glaringly evident that Paul commands the offense like a general. He warrants the respect of defenses and that of his teammates in way that even Chauncey Billups can’t (a proven veteran at the point-guard). With each passing game, look for Chris Paul to return to top form and lead his new team to better victories.
His competitive edge, motivational drive and leadership acumen will raise the bar for these young Clippers. If the expectations league-wide are high, Chris’ are even higher. Never mind the over-celebration of a fancy lob, what matters to Paul is that you get back on defense right away. You celebrate when the “W” is on the board, not when you’re hanging on the rim.
Just Another Game? Not Against the Clippers
What is it about the “lowly” Clippers that raises the ire opposition? Were the Mayans correct about 2012? The history of the NBA is brimming with Clipper loses. With only three winning seasons over a 34 year period with the Clipper name, they have only had three winning seasons.
Overnight they have become the team-to-beat without so much as having won a playoff game with their current roster. I have seen almost every game this season, and time and again the level of play is raised by the opposing team versus the Clips. Teams come in determined not to get their passports stamped by Lob City, at times resorting to hard fouls that put the health of Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan in jeopardy.
Games versus the Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Heat and Grizzlies all led to acknowledgment, by various commentators, that these games had the feel and atmosphere of a playoff game. Maybe this is why it’s so entertaining to watch the Clippers, and why they often lose focus down the stretch. A team that is not battle tested in the playoffs cannot respond appropriately without having been there, and as such, it is easy to lose leads to more veteran and cohesive teams.
The good news is that the Clippers are 10-6 thus far, despite the high level of in-game competition. Most of their games, however, have come at home. February will have them on the road and we will get a better feel for where these Clippers stand.
Mo Williams is Hot
Prior to Chris Paul landing on Vinny’s lap, Mo Williams was expected to be the starting point-guard. Then the flurry of post-lockout moves happened and he was relegated to the bench behind CP3 and Chauncey Billups, a move that was seen as a slight to the quality of his game. Were he not with the Clippers, Mo Williams would be a starter anywhere else. Herein lies the conundrum that Del Negro faces: how do you keep a legit offensive threat happy on the bench?
I’m not sure if Mo’s recent outstanding performance is in response to being relegated to the bench, or if he has somehow embraced his role in this offense. One this is clear, however: he’s extremely hot and crucial for the second unit of the Clippers.
The streaky and emotional Williams has been posting impressive scoring numbers off the bench, and if the case is that he understands the importance of his role on this team and that his impact is higher when it is most needed (off the bench), then Clippers’ lack of depth is temporarily assuaged by Williams’ hot hand.
Last night, despite not having started, Williams closed the game on the floor. He was appropriately rewarded for his hustle and scoring down the stretch, and it could very well turn into a commonplace occurrence given Billups’ erratic efficiency.
Caron Butler is Crucial for Clippers Success
The often underrated, third acquisition during this off-season has provided the Clippers with an outstanding consistent contribution. Caron Butler continues to provide a solid option for the guards and the big men. His potent offense repeatedly keeps the Clippers in the game. He was the hottest Clipper versus the Lakers, and again proved to be streaky against the Grizzlies.
Once again, big ups to Caron.
Free Throws, Technical Fouls, Turnovers and Rebounding Still a Problem.
The ugly side of Clippers basketball was very evident in last night’s game. Blake and D.J. continue to give away easy points from the free-throw line. A lack of depth in the front-court leads to too many second-chance points by the opposition, and sloppy turnovers translate into diminished big leads.
Add to that a consistent hot-headedness that results in technical fouls, and you have a situation in which the Clippers do not take advantage of the easy points they earn, and suffer because of the easy points they give away.
“They made us earn everything. I was pleased with the way we got some stops at the end when we needed to, we got scores when we needed to. Different guys stepped up. It was a good team effort for us, but we gave up too many rebounds and we turned it over too much.” – Del Negro
Maybe Vinny D. is incapable of instilling better discipline into this organization. In spite of the talent on the team, it might take a different coaching mentality to get these guys in gear. Whatever the case, I hope someone points out the obvious. Come playoff time, this will translate into an early exit.