Clippers look to bounce back against fatigued Cavaliers
For the first 12 minutes of Sunday's contest against the Denver Nuggets, the L.A. Clippers looked as though they had figured things out.
After allowing the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies to pummel them early, the Clippers were the team on top at the end of the first quarter, 30-29. On top of that, L.A. had dished out nine assists and committed just one turnover, and we'd not seen that kind of efficiency from this team in some time.
But it was only a temporary high, as the second quarter felt all too familiar. The Nuggets opened things up on a 19-8 run, building a double-digit lead in less than five minutes – all without Nikola Jokic on the floor. Those were minutes that the Clippers needed to win, but they ultimately lost the game during them.
L.A.'s defense was the main issue. In those first five minutes of the second, Denver made nine shots in a row, and only one of them was a 3-pointer. As Jovan Buha of The Athletic pointed out, the Clippers were unable to prevent the Nuggets from working their way inside.
L.A.'s offense wasn't much better. During that same period, the Clippers went 4-of-9 from the field and made their only free throw attempt. The number of turnovers ballooned as well, as L.A. would commit eight total before the break.
The Clippers were much better in the second half and even brought Denver's lead down to six with a few minutes to play, but the chance of completing a comeback at that point was incredibly slim. Ultimately, it was the Nuggets' balanced scoring attack that did the Clippers in – seven of their players scored in double-figures, compared to L.A.'s three.
Fortunately, the Clippers should be able to find some consistency on both ends of the floor against their next opponent: The Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland is one of the league's sloppiest, least aggressive teams, and the Clippers shouldn't have any issues taking advantage of their weaknesses. Tuesday's game will also be their third in four days, so fatigue could be a factor as well.
So far this season, the Cavaliers are turning the ball over at the second-worst rate in the NBA and take the third-fewest trips to the free-throw line.
Inexperience is a big part of that. Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, Cleveland's starting guards, are in the midst of their first and second years in the league, respectively. Neither has been particularly effective, either. Garland has finally found some consistency and has averaged 16.3 points per game since December 28, but he's struggled otherwise. Meanwhile, Sexton is converting his 3-point attempts at a 31.5 percent clip, which is over six points worse than the number he posted last season.
Cleveland does have some solid veterans in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, and both have been playing well lately. Love recorded 19 points and 15 rebounds in Cleveland's surprising win over Denver this past weekend, and Thompson went off for a career-high 35 points against Detroit last Thursday.
That said, the Cavaliers should struggle in the areas where the Clippers excel. Cedi Osman doesn't stand a chance against Kawhi Leonard, and Garland and Sexton don't offer much on that end either. Therefore, the Clippers shouldn't have any issues getting the shots they want against Cleveland's starting unit – especially from beyond the arc. Assuming Lou Williams gets the start again in Paul George's place (who will miss his third straight game Tuesday), this one could get ugly fast.
Should Cleveland's starters build a lead, their bench will struggle to maintain it. The Cavaliers' non-starters are scoring just under 35 points per game this season, which ranks 20th in the league. Even with Williams starting, the Clippers would have enough weapons off the bench to overpower Cleveland's.
George's absence will certainly be felt, but this game could be the perfect opportunity for the rest of the team to find some sort of rhythm before he returns.