The Los Angeles Clippers are currently fourth in the Western Conference standings, two games back from the Oklahoma City Thunder and a game above the Dallas Mavericks. After Golden State, the West continues to prove a close and dynamic contest at the end of the first quarter of the season. The Clippers wrap up a five game road trip against Detroit on Monday, Dec. 14. This road trip has been a good test for the Clippers who continue to fail to live up to the expectations of their All-Star starters. Despite winning four of their last five games, which isn’t a bad streak when only compared to earthly teams and not Golden State’s other-worldly achievements, the Clippers’ bench and coaching continue to draw criticism from observers and journalists.
It is true that the Clippers have drastically improved since a losing streak in late November and are now four games above a .500 record. Yet some intangible shortcomings keep the Clippers from transcending opponents, maintaining leads, and blowing out weaker teams. The Clippers have logged six games where they won by 10 or more points. The comparable OKC Thunder have logged nine. In their last four wins, the Clippers have won by an average of just 6 points. This is exhibited in the well-documented problem manifested in the uncertain starting small-forward position (starting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is hardly a long term solution when he drops 0 points in 16 minutes). Additionally, the Clippers’ bench continues to induce headaches across Los Angeles.
So what is happening? In their most recent loss on Dec. 10, a heart-breaking 83-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the bench logged a cumulative 96 minutes. What did they accomplish in that copious amount of time? Considerably little. They shot 10-31 with both Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford limited to one basket each. Only Wesley Johnson had a good game and shot 3-4 from deep. The lack of depth on the Clippers’ roster continues to be a source of trouble. Once Blake Griffin was ejected for a hard foul against Taj Gibson, the Bulls only needed to maintain their presence on the floor to complete their win. How can a bench collectively shoot less than 30 percent in the NBA? For a comparison, the last ranked LA Lakers’ bench collectively shot better on 12-30 shooting in their recent loss against the perennially excellent San Antonio Spurs.
Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and Chris Paul prolifically outscore the other team’s starting lineup and then are taken out of the game to rest by Doc Rivers who then fields a small-ball squad using Josh Smith as the biggest man on the court. This small-ball squad usually gives up the lead or barely maintains it. How can they be expected to do much more when this supporting cast includes an aging Paul Pierce and inept Austin Rivers. Rivers does little more than take and miss ridiculously contested shots. But I can’t blame him for that. I can blame him for the fact that despite averaging 23 minutes as a point guard he rarely even notches more than a single assist. It is true he is more of a shooting guard but someone needs to tell Austin Rivers what it means to run the offense if he is gong to be expected to. He needs to create opportunities for his teammates rather than taking and missing shots from behind the arc and or driving to the basket and inevitably turning the ball over. An assistant coach needs to teach Rivers how to make pocket passes and create opportunities for his teammates so that they can score. I assume it will be an assistant coach because his father, Coach Doc Rivers, evidently won’t do it.
All of this analysis of the Clippers’ capacity to score, execute, and win games would be negligible if some real change was made to how the team is managed. The President of Basketball Operations needs to step in and force Coach Doc Rivers to make a change in how he is coaching his team, make a trade, or change how the bench operates. This is the dream of Clippers’ fans everywhere because the current status-quo is not enabling the Clippers to realize their potential as offensive juggernauts but as a team which barely wins over rivals. Unfortunately, those hopes will stay a fantasy because the Clippers’ President of Basketball Operations, and holding real GM powers, is none other than Head Coach Doc Rivers who continues to give his son an excess of minutes in every game the Clippers barely win and shows no sign of admitting defeat.