After a blowout victory over Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors on Thursday, it seemed as though the LA Clippers had put their rough patch (losing six of their previous nine games) behind them and were starting off the second half of the season on the right foot. However, Sunday night’s embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Pelicans essentially nixed that notion.
The Clippers were on the other end of a blowout this time, losing by a score of 135-115, though at one point New Orleans was up by as many as 33 points. It was one of those games (similar to the Clippers’ 122-94 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies back on Feb. 25) where LA just did not look that interested in playing basketball. Their defense was nonexistent, giving up 72 points in the paint to a team that ranks 24th in the league in three-point attempt rate. The Clippers should’ve been packing the paint and helping off of shooters in order to deny more shots at the rim, but they looked lackadaisical and unconcerned for large portions of the game. It also doesn’t help when Lonzo Ball knocks down five of his eight three-point attempts, including going 3-3 in the first three minutes of the game to set the tone and establish that he can no longer be left alone as a spot-up shooter. LA gave up 65.4% shooting to the Pelicans as a team.
LA can’t guard Zion (but to be fair, no one can)
The Clippers struggled mightily to contain the monster that is Zion Williamson, allowing the first-time All-Star to drop 27 points on a ridiculously efficient 13-16 shooting.
On the one hand, it’s hard to blame the Clippers for having no answer for him. Williamson plays like a fusion of a tank and a deer, applying a shocking burst of speed before plowing through defenders and finishing with an impressive amount of touch around the rim. His skillset seems to be growing by the day; he has the in-and-out dribble, the drop-step spin move in the lane, and he’s essentially been their point guard for the better part of this season (five assists for him on Sunday).
On the other hand, LA seemed particularly ill-equipped to deal with the unicorn that is Williamson. Nicolas Batum drew the initial assignment, but he looked too slow on certain possessions and too weak on others.
The Clippers were particularly disadvantaged against Williamson after their starting center and primary rim protector left the game eight minutes into the first quarter with back spasms.
Serge Ibaka falls victim to the injury bug
LA had already lost Patrick Beverley to right knee soreness a few days prior (the Clippers will be without Beverley for the entirety of their upcoming road trip), but they lost even more of their depth when it became clear that Serge Ibaka would be unable to re-enter Sunday’s game after experiencing back spasms.
It is unclear if this is something that could keep Ibaka out for an extended period. What is equally concerning is the fact that LA cannot seem to get any continuity in terms of having their five starters all on the court at the same time. It’s hard to develop good habits and chemistry when one or two of their five core players is always out.
Luke Kennard fits in
Either out of necessity in reaction to this Ibaka injury, or as an experiment against the Zion-at-center Pelicans, Lue threw out an extremely small lineup of Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Leonard, Paul George and Batum to close the second quarter. The lineup didn’t look completely incompetent defensively depsite their lack of size, and the floor was extremely well-spread.
It is encouraging to see Kennard getting some run with the starters. Lue’s faith in Kennard seems to be restored somewhat after he was essentially nixed from the rotation for a few games. The Clippers made a big bet on Kennard, signing him to a four-year, $64 million extension before the season even began. If they can slowly mold him into a viable sixth man that fits well as a floor-spacer and tertiary ball-handler next to George and Leonard, it’ll do wonders for their team-building moving forward.
The Clippers will have to get over this deflating loss quickly, as they enter the second game of their back-to-back on Monday night, squaring off against the Dallas Mavericks. This will be the first time the Clippers will face the Mavs since their infamous 51-point loss early in the season. Lue is concerned that, if his team’s energy remains at the level it was at in this loss to the Pelicans, history could repeat itself.