Clippers look to keep rolling against Hawks
The last time the Clippers played the Hawks, they hung 150 points on their poor, unassuming guests, earning the first of what should be many wins with Paul George in a Clipper uniform.
L.A. hopes to see George in that uniform again in Atlanta Wednesday after a six-game injury absence. The Clippers have won five of six without their superstar wing, but that was with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. On the second night of a back-to-back, after playing 36 minutes to lead L.A. in a win over Dallas, it is unlikely that Leonard will be available. Leonard has yet to play in both games of a back-to-back all season.
The Clippers are 0-2 this season when both George and Leonard are missing, though those two contests were against the Jazz and the Bucks, two of the best teams in the league. The Hawks are decidedly not in that conversation.
Despite Trae Young putting up one of the finest sophomore seasons in recent memory and making an All-Star push at age 21, Atlanta has had a dreadful year. Their 10 wins are tied for the fewest in the league, and they're only one loss of ahead of Golden State for the worst record in the NBA.
The Hawks looked the part of a lottery team when they came to Los Angeles in November. Their inattention and lack of effort on the defensive end was palpable from the jump, and they were embarrassed in a 49-point loss.
Nevertheless, though it may not show up in their win-loss record, Atlanta has gotten meaningfully better since then. The team has collected victories over Phoenix, Indiana, and San Antonio this month. They have the worst point differential in the league over the full season, per Cleaning the Glass, but have crept up to 21st over the past two weeks.
Much of that growth stems from Young, who has improved his efficiency over recent weeks. The Hawks have also seen stronger play from their rookie Cam Reddish, who has taken to the defensive side of the ball while he learns how to play in NBA offense, as well as a spike in 3-point shooting from Kevin Huerter. John Collins has also returned to the lineup since the two teams' last meeting after serving a 25-game suspension, and he gives Young a worthy pick-and-roll partner and a big who will run the floor in transition.
The Clippers could be without Patrick Beverley in addition to their two superstars, as the starting point guard suffered a groin injury against Dallas and had to sit out the second half. Fortunately, Atlanta is just about the best opponent to be shorthanded against — L.A. was missing Leonard, Beverley, and Landry Shamet during the first go-round and still routed the Hawks.
Regardless of how the Hawks are playing, the Clippers look to be finding their stride in recent games. The offense is humming, and the improved movement and spacing is making things easier for everyone, especially Leonard and Shamet.
The players have credited an increase in film sessions over the past few weeks for their play. They understand their roles and their spots better, and it's materializing on the court.
What version of the Clippers actually takes the floor against Atlanta remains unclear. But if L.A. retains its approach from the past few wins, even a shorthanded squad should be able to continue the momentum.