3 Question Marks for the Clippers in the Last Quarter of the NBA Season

Errol Krupiarz@@WiseGuyErrolContributor IMarch 25, 2012

3 Question Marks for the Clippers in the Last Quarter of the NBA Season

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    It was a promising start to this NBA season for the Los Angeles Clippers. The team jumped out to a fast start and held a lead in the NBA Pacific division most the way.

    Since the All-Star break, however, the Clippers have fallen on hard times and are now in a dogfight to hang onto a playoff spot in the Western conference. Many point to losing Chauncey Billups as the turning point, others are coming down hard on coach Del Negro. Some even blame bad karma created by the whole Clipper Darrel fiasco.

    Any way you look at it, L.A. is fading. They still own the No. 4 spot in the conference, but there are five other teams within three games lurking right below. The time is now to turn things back around.

    Here are three question marks the Clippers will face the rest of the way.

1. Vinny Del Negro

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    Since the start of the season, I’ve questioned how far this team can go with Del Negro as head coach. Now it looks like the front office may be wondering the same thing as recent rumors have Del Negro on thin ice entering this homestand.

    His offensive sets have become too predictable and the Clippers have become more stagnant in the halfcourt. Before this afternoon’s victory vs. Memphis, Los Angeles went nine straight games without reaching 100 points (six of them losses).

    Have the players started to tune out their head coach? The Clippers aren’t losing because of lack of effort and injuries haven’t been a major problem either. Sure, it’s risky to fire a head coach in the middle of a playoff race towards the end of the regular season, but maybe a new voice in the locker room would help turn things around—it’s working so far for the New York Knicks and Mike Woodson.

2. Conditioning

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    Los Angeles played just 17 games during the first five weeks of the season—the lowest number in the NBA—and are now forced to play catch-up with the rest of the league late in the year because of it. 

    Taking a closer look at the schedule, L.A. started off the season 15-7 while playing with a little extra rest over everyone else. Since the All-Star break, however, the Clippers have played 17 games in 25 days and are 7-10 over that span.

    Fatigue might have started to become a factor. Del Negro would be wise to skip an afternoon practice or two and limit his starters’ minutes whenever possible. Of course, both of things are hard to do when you’re losing basketball games. 

3. Can This Team Come Together?

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    The Clippers roster has received a major face-lift in the last few months. Chris Paul, Mo Williams, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups joined the team in the offseason. Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons and most recently Nick Young have since been added on the fly.

    That equals seven members currently in the rotation that were not with the team last year. It’s been out with the old, in with the new, and for the Clippers, that’s a good thing.

    With the shortened schedule, however, there hasn’t been much time for all the new talent to gel. Players are still learning each other’s tendencies on both sides of the floor. Chris Paul, for example, is now challenged with incorporating newly-acquired Nick Young into the offense.

    The addition of Nick Young adds another scoring threat to the team but it will also cause a ripple effect down the roster. Randy Foye will now lose minutes. Mo Williams might lose a few too. Roles are in flux, just as they have been the whole year.

    It’s time to find some stability in the rotation as soon as possible to close out the regular season (are you listening, coach?). Come up with a plan. Figure out which players you want in the game and when you want them in, and then stick to it.