Is it panic time in Lob City?
A combination of lack of energy, poor offensive execution and lethargic perimeter defense could cost the Clips home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Over the last few weeks, the Clippers have dropped games to the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets. Perhaps their most disappointing game of the year happened last night, a brutal road loss at the hands of the lowly Sacramento Kings.
If the Clips end up opening the playoffs on the road at Memphis or Denver, then they can look to their loss in the state capital as an indicator of the direction their season appears to be heading.
A 17-game winning streak and undefeated December is only a memory now. Unless things change soon, Lob City might come crashing down in an early postseason exit.
Beating the Clippers is certainly possible. A sustained combination of grinding on defense, draining open threes and putting the Clips’ bigs at the line is the best way to eclipse this high-soaring bunch.
Despite the theatrics and pyrotechnics of the Lob City show, the Clippers are more than grounded when they are stuck in the half-court.
Chris Paul’s brilliance aside, the Clips have some bad tendencies that will certainly cost them this April; among them is the lack of a coherent half-court game plan.
The pick-and-roll has been this team’s bread and butter for much of the year, but busting high picks is too easy for adept defenses. San Antonio displayed this last spring, and just recently the Grizzlies were unharmed as they disrupted the Clips’ simple attack.
When asked about his offensive scheme, even coach Vinny Del Negro conceded the absence of a system. There is no run-and-gun, no grit-and-grind, no triangle, no seven seconds or less.
Multiple times in the fourth quarter of their recent home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers turned it over down the stretch.
Memphis is indeed one of the better defensive teams in the game, but one has to wonder what Del Negro was drawing up in the huddle.
Everything on offense looks much more challenging for the Clippers now than it did in December.
Too many times are guys like Lamar Odom spotting up for contested mid-range jump shots at the end of the shot clock. That coach Del Negro has not made the right adjustments is discouraging, and could be a bad harbinger of things to come this April.
Unfathomably, Odom has taken more three-pointers above the break three than field goals in the paint but outside of the restricted area this season.
Per NBA.com, Odom is shooting a paltry 27 percent on field goals in the paint and outside of the restricted area, and an even worse 22 percent on three-pointers above the break.
Despite his poor performance, Odom is still getting heavy minutes in close games.
Del Negro’s lack of trust in Jordan is evident, but the Odom-Jordan conundrum is another type of pick your poison that might seriously hinder the Clippers’ chances this postseason.
Does Del Negro leave a career 43.1 percent free-throw shooter on the floor in DJ or opt to go four on five offensively with Odom?
Kevin Garnett sure sounds appealing right about now.
Knock Down the Open Three
Outside of the Clippers’ questionable half-court offense, they are also susceptible to the three-ball.
The Clips let opponents drain shots from behind the arc at a rate of 37.9 percent, the second-worst clip in the Western Conference.
In 22 losses, Lob City has let its opponents knock down an average of 47 percent of their three-pointers.
The team’s recent struggles since the All-Star break have reflected this theme.
It is one thing to let the machine-like Spurs drain nine of 17 shots from distance, but it is much more worrisome to see a poor long-range shooting team like the Nuggets convert 47.8 percent.
Lob City’s worst performance from behind the arc came at the hands of the lowly Sacramento Kings, when Toney Douglas went off for three straight three-pointers in the final three minutes of a game that will haunt LAC for the rest of the season.
On the year, the Kings make only about 37 percent of their long-balls. Against the Clippers, they converted 14 of 28.
The Clips’ defensive perimeter woes are a combination of lack of effort, poor defensive execution and bad closeouts. Nevertheless, if the Clippers cannot find a way to shore up their miserable three-point defense, then they can expect teams to exploit this deficiency in the postseason.
In Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have two of the most unreliable free-throw shooters in basketball.
Griffin has made strides from the charity stripe this season, knocking down 65.7 percent on the season, up from his pedestrian 60.9 percent career average. Still, it is hard to be overly encouraged by a big man shooting under 70 percent from the line.
Jordan, on the other hand, has been consistently awful.
DJ's free-throw average is down to 40.5 percent on the year, the worst mark of any player with over 200 attempts.
Jordan was intentionally fouled twice in the fourth quarter of a tight game. When he only converted one of four free-throws, including a lucky bank-in, Del Negro had enough, and pulled the big man from the game.
The fouls were enough to stymie any offensive flow that the Clips might have had, all while rendering their best shot blocker and rebounder obsolete.
The Kings are not the first bunch to use the Hack-a-DeAndre strategy. Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors have utilized it, as did Gregg Popovich in last season’s second-round matchup between the Spurs and the Clippers.
Griffin and Jordan form the most athletic and explosive frontcourt duo in the game, and the Clippers would love to take advantage of their personnel in the postseason.
However, unless either can tighten up what has been a roller coaster from the charity stripe, then the Clips will certainly continue to find trouble in tight games against the West’s best.