It’s no secret that the Clippers would be facing a bit of an uphill battle this season in staying relevant in an always competitive West. After suffering a first round defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz they traded future HOF point guard Chris Paul to conference rival Houston Rockets. Between the haul from that trade and an offseason filled with some pretty interesting choices (primarily relieving Doc Rivers of his personnel decision making duties) and the talk that their title window is all but shut this team was destined to be one of the most interesting teams in the association.
Good news is that the Clippers have indeed given us something to talk about, bad news is that the talk is confirming all of the worries most of us had about them. That this team is freaking made of glass! Unfortunately, injury issues have been a calling card for the Clips in excusing poor performance and managing expectations with this year proving no different. Normally they have weathered the storm and more or less come out of it in tact this recent string of bad health may prove too much for them to fight through.
Let’s discuss the biggie first. After Monday night’s five point victory over their younger and more rambunctious roommates Los Angeles Lakers the Clips confirmed that All-Star forward Blake Griffin sprained his MCL which may cause him to miss six months. This may very well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Clippers have been successful before with out Blake. They’ve also looked really good when Chris Paul was out for extended periods. Thing is, they almost always had one or the other on the floor to pick up the slack. And I hate to tell ya but Chris Paul ain’t walking through that door.
The loss of point guards Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic has taken away much of their defensive, shooting and facilitating punch. Teo is expected back by the start of the year but it’s gonna be an UGLY road to 2018. In the next month the Clips will see Utah, Minnesota twice, Washington twice, Toronto, San Antonio and Houston. That’s eight games where they will probably be expected to lose not mentioning the ones that may slip past them due to such attrition.
The backcourt isn’t the only place the Clips are feeling the pain. Danilo Gallinari has been out since the beginning of November with a strained glute but is expected back in the next few games. However he wasn’t exactly lighting it up before his injury. Gallo was averaging 13-4-3 on shooting splits of 35 and 26. Yeesh. I expect him to come around and post some pretty good numbers especially now but will it help this team produce more wins in the absence of Blake and P-Bev?
Their bench guys have performed better than expected but to ask Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans (both of whom I REALLY like) to roll for 20+ minutes per night is a bit much. And who knows, they may not wilt under the lights but it’s gonna be a long, hard road until the cavalry comes. And then there’s the question how good any of these guys will be coming back from injury. Blake and Gallo are training room vets but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be the one that has them coming back not quite themselves.
Lou Williams and Austin “Daddy’s Boy” Rivers will make for a fascinating crunch time backcourt and Wesley Johnson may not look horrible in an expanded role at the 3. But the thought of Gallo playing the 4 fresh off of an injury is a bit scary, especially defensively.
Doc has always been criticized for his substitution patterns but with out of necessity he’s been playing pretty deep this year (especially in playing rookies) and there may be some things that can really work here (personally I’ve been wanting to see more Montrezl Harrell). Willie Reed has been good in spurts but with a healthy and productive Deandre Jordan he’s not as much of a need here than say a Sam Dekker.
Speaking of Doc, having this team come out of this in one piece will probably decide his employment status. He’s been able to do it before but can he do it again? I won’t be the one that flat out says they can’t because when they’re thrown into the water (which they have been time and time again) they just won’t sink so it can be done. He just won’t have a future HOF or perineal All-Star life preserver to throw out there this time.