After winning six games in a row and seven of their last eight, a lack of rest and available players finally caught up to the LA Clippers in their 103-96 loss to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.
The Clippers were in command almost all night long, and there was hardly ever any indication that Orlando would come back and pull off the upset. But once the Magic started to get going, it was clear that the Clippers didn't have enough left in the tank to stop them.
Still, it's almost hard to believe that the Clippers would lose after limiting the Magic to just 13 points in the first quarter and 37 in the half. But LA struggled to produce on offense down the stretch, and Orlando wasn't going to shoot 33% from the field forever.
"I thought we struggled from the beginning, honestly," coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. "But when you're down guys and you're on a back-to-back, I think it's just tough, trying to keep guys' minutes down as much as we could. It's just a tough situation when guys are not playing, and guys are out ad we're playing in a back-to-back... We missed a lot of shots, they got out in transition in the second half, giving up two 33-point quarters."
The Clippers only played eight players, as five members of the rotation — Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka and Rajon Rondo — all sat due to injury. It's unclear when they'll all be able to return, but with a tough contest coming up tomorrow night against the Denver Nuggets, LA has to hope it's soon.
Let's take a look at a few other things we gleaned from last night's matchup.
Exhaustion Sets In
The LA Clippers haven't been fully healthy in almost three weeks now. As a result, the team has had to rely much more heavily on its reserves than usual — meaning guys like Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson, for example — have been playing extended minutes for an extended period of time.
They've all made the most of their additional time on the floor, but they also just played their fifth game in seven nights under those circumstances. At some point, fatigue was bound to catch up with them — and it did last night.
The Clippers managed just 45 points on 32.7% shooting in the second half and turned the ball over 14 times on the night. Kennard fouled out. Zubac and Jackson almost did too. It was the sloppiest this team has looked in some time, but again, that shouldn't have come as a huge surprise.
LA absolutely still could have won this contest. They led 93-86 with less than two a half minutes to play in the fourth quarter. It's hard to excuse that.
But looking at the bigger picture, considering the games the Clippers have coming up in the next week against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, losing to the Magic doesn't hurt too much. That loss probably won't end up counting toward tiebreakers — the others would.
Back-to-Back Streak Comes to an End
The LA Clippers had played unusually well in the second game of back-to-back sets coming into Tuesday night's matchup. They entered with an 8-0 record and a massive point differential, including some impressive wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers.
That streak finally reached its end against Orlando, but it's still impressive that it lasted as long as it did. Those games have been among the Clippers' worst over the last several seasons, and considering how much this team has struggled to stay healthy lately, it wouldn't have been shocking had it ended long ago.
The Clippers still have four back-to-back sets to play this season, with the second games coming against the Houston Rockets (twice), the Detroit Pistons and the Grizzlies. Assuming LA can get healthy soon, there's a very real chance that they don't lose any of those contests and improve to 12-1 on the season.
Of course, the Clippers won't play any back-to-backs in the playoffs, so it's hard to say exactly what this says about their potential postseason success — if anything at all. But the fact that LA has been so resilient this season and has been able to give that extra effort in these games feels like a good sign.
The Clippers Need Another Big
LA rolled out just eight players against Orlando and opted to play Patrick Patterson as its backup big with Ibaka sidelined. Meanwhile, Daniel Oturu — one of LA's second-round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft — watched from the bench.
It's not Oturu's fault that he rarely sees the floor. He wasn't taken at that spot to make an immediate impact this season. But the Clippers do need another center to play behind Zubac and Ibaka, and if that player isn't Oturu, then it's time for LA to start surveying the free agent pool.
LA is reportedly looking at DeMarcus Cousins, who is expected to sign a 10-day contract with the team soon. This is a step in the right direction, and assuming Cousins is used properly, he could certainly end up being impactful.
On nights when one of Zubac/Ibaka is out, Cousins is more than capable of playing in a reserve role off the bench. He doesn't bring much on the defensive end of the floor, but Cousins is still a solid rebounder and spot-up shooter. When both those guys are healthy, though, he probably shouldn't see the floor.