Los Angeles Clippers: Grant Hill
“The No. 1 priority for us right now has to be re-signing our star player, Chris Paul,” Sacks said at Day 2 of the Clippers’ exit interviews. “That's our goal, that's what we want to do.”
While the Clippers’ early playoff exit certainly doesn’t sit well with their free agent superstar, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has reported that Paul will likely stay in Los Angeles and accept the nearly $30 million extra the Clippers can offer him.
Heading into the offseason, the Clippers only have six players under fully guaranteed contracts: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Grant Hill. Willie Green’s contract is non-guaranteed for the next two seasons, meaning the Clippers can waive him to alleviate cap space.
The collective salaries of the group equal 46.7 million ($45.3 million if Green is waived before July 1). If Paul signs the five-year, $108 million extension the Clippers can offer, his first-year salary would be a little under $18.7 million, bringing the Clippers’ salary total to $66.5 million, including the 25th overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft (the average salary at that slot is about $1.1 million).
ESPN cap guru Larry Coon projects a $71.5 million to $73 million tax line in 2013-14, meaning with only nine players under contract -- the league minimum is 13 -- the Clippers would have $5 to $7 million to spend on at least four players in free agency and still remain under the dreadful luxury tax.
With six free agents -- Paul, Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins -- and no decision announced yet on the future of their Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers will have a slew of difficult decisions to make in what Sacks calls a “huge” offseason.
Here are three things to look for this offseason:
Deciding on the future of Jordan and Bledsoe
The young duo was nearly packaged alongside Butler to the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline, and it’s looking more and more like one of them, if not both, will eventually be dealt.
Bledsoe is more likely to be traded than Jordan, as the back-up point guard is due for a significant raise next summer as a restricted free agent. Many, including Paul, believe Bledsoe should be starting on his own team.
That being said, it’s unlikely the Clippers move Bledsoe -- the ultimate insurance policy -- until Paul is locked up, which would be July 1 at the earliest. If the right move comes along though, especially around the NBA Draft in late June, Bledsoe could be moved sooner.
While Jordan has yet to play up to the standards of the hefty contract he signed last summer, it’ll be more difficult to replace him because athletic 7-footers are hard to come by and provide unquantifiable value on defense.
Still, the Clippers are in win-now mode and don’t have time to wait for Jordan to blossom an offensive game or become competent at free throw shooting. If he’s unable to play in crunch time, he isn’t worth keeping around.
It’s unlikely the Clippers keep both players, but still possible. Bledsoe has proven he can play shooting guard alongside Paul, and his stout perimeter defense is a game-changer; Jordan has improved every year and may finally breakthrough with a solidified role and consistent playing time.
Nevertheless, these two will be the centerpieces of any trade talks the Clippers have over the offseason.
Big man with shooting range
One of the biggest problems for the Clippers offensively this season was that besides Griffin -- who’s at his best when operating down on the low block -- they didn’t have a big man that could space the floor and stretch opposing defenses out with his shooting.
Odom was supposed to fill that role, but his shooting stroke deserted him for the second straight season. He shot 39.9 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from the beyond the arc, figures that ranked as the second worst of his career.
Meanwhile, Jordan, Turiaf and Hollins combined to make 9 shots beyond 10 feet all season. Defenses often ignored the latter two and only paid attention to Jordan because of the ever-looming threat of a lob from Paul.
No matter who he played with, Griffin was always paired with an offensive non-factor, forcing him to single-handedly carry the interior-scoring burden. After he sprained his ankle before Game 5 of the 2013 postseason, no one else stepped up -- the remaining big men combined to average just 15 points per game over the final two games of the series.
With the Clippers on a strict budget, and floor-spacing big men a hot commodity, it’s unlikely they find a guy without severe flaws (especially defensively). Regardless, finding a shooting big man who can play with Griffin for 10-15 minutes a night will spruce up the Clippers’ offense.
Potential fits: Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, Dante Cunningham (Team Option), Anthony Tolliver, Jon Leuer (Restricted Free Agent)
Athletic wing defender with size
The Clippers’ perimeter defenders made the Grizzlies’ wings look like All-Stars this postseason, even though none of the Grizzlies’ perimeter players averaged double-digit scoring numbers during the season.
With Butler, Crawford and Green as the only wings under contract, the Clippers will undoubtedly need to address their perimeter defense, as none of those guys are “stoppers”. To contend for a championship next year, the Clippers will need a couple of players who can feasibly defend the Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants of the world without being burned.
Barnes did a great job filling this role this year, but due to the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement (the Clippers don’t own his Bird Rights), the Clippers can only offer him up to 120 percent of his current contract, which is a little over $1.6 million. If Barnes wants to stay in L.A., he’ll have to take a significant pay cut compared to his projected market value. Chances are, though, he bolts for more money and a larger role, as he’s already stated he wants a pay increase.
While a lot of the shooting big men in the Clippers’ price range will be defensively challenged, most free agent wing defenders will likewise be offensively challenged. There’s a reason why they’re not getting paid more.
Ideally, the Clippers would sign someone with the size and/or length to play power forward in small ball lineups, while also possessing the ability to shoot corner 3-pointers. If they can sign two such players -- one to start and one to come off the bench -- they should be set on the perimeter.
Potential fits: Barnes, Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Ronnie Brewer, Brandon Rush (Player Option), Marquis Daniels
Stats used in this piece are from ESPN.com and NBA.com/Stats.
Salary cap information used from ESPN.com, HOOPSWORLD.com, CBAFAQ.com and ClipperBlog.com.
Fredrick J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed their best season in franchise history, winning their first division title, a record 56 games, going on a 17-game winning streak and sweeping the Lakers for the first time. Their postseason, however, wasn’t as memorable, ending in four straight losses after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies. We’ll take a step back and try to grade what each player brought to the table, beginning with the bench. Check back for grades on the starters and the Clippers' coaching staff and front office.
Crawford didn’t come into this season with any grand personal expectations other than winning after signing a four-year, $25 million contract last summer with the Clippers, but it didn’t take him long to change his tune. Crawford expected to be selected as an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career and to win his second NBA Sixth Man of the Year award by season’s end. Neither goal was achieved, but it didn’t take away from the incredible season Crawford had.
“It's more about winning than anything,” Crawford said. “I know a lot of people say go out there and prove why you should win this or that, but I feel I've been proving it all season. So it's not about that. You just want to go out and win.”
When Crawford was on, the Clippers and their bench were at their best. He was second on the team in scoring and ranked third in the NBA this season in fourth-quarter scoring, behind Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. He led the league in 20-point games off the bench and was second in the league in fourth-quarter plus-minus, finishing just behind LeBron James. He also was atop all NBA reserves in scoring per 26 minutes and in simple plus-minus.
16.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, .438 FG, .376 3FG: After a couple of rough seasons in Atlanta and Portland, Crawford returned to the old form he had when he won the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Hawks in 2010 and nearly won the award this season, finishing second.
Outlook for 2013-14
Crawford might be one of three Clippers pieces likely set in stone if Chris Paul ends up re-signing. The Clippers believe they have arguably the best point guard, power forward and sixth man in basketball with Paul, Blake Griffin and Crawford. Everything else is negotiable. Expect to see plenty of names end up in trade rumors this offseason but no serious one will include Crawford, who has three more years on his deal and who could contend for an All-Star appearance or two or a Sixth Man award during that time.
A: He may not have had the best postseason (no one on the Clippers did) but it’s hard to ask for a better regular season from a bench player.
Arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA had another solid season and showed why he should be starting on another team if Paul re-signs with the Clippers. When Paul went down with an injury during the regular season, Bledsoe stepped in and averaged 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.43 steals in starts.
“Bled is one of the best guards in our league," Paul said last month. “I've said it all season long. I'm enjoying playing with him right now because there's no way he can be here next year because we probably won't have enough money to pay him. He should be a starting point guard in this league next year.”
The Clippers don’t need to deal Bledsoe in the offseason but once Paul re-signs they’d be wise to start looking for suitors. One of the more popular destinations has been Boston in a package that would include DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. Considering Bledsoe had 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against the Celtics earlier this season, it’s not hard to see why Boston would be interested.
8.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, .445 FG, .397 3FG: Bledsoe’s statistics took a massive jump from his sophomore season when he battled back from knee surgery.
Outlook for 2013-14
Bledsoe’s future with the Clippers really hinges on Paul’s decision this offseason. If he decided to stay, the Clippers would be wise in looking to deal the up-and-coming point guard for pieces that will help the Clippers compete for a championship this season with Paul. If Paul decides to leave, Bledsoe immediately becomes the team’s new starting point guard and they would move forward with Bledsoe and Griffin, while trying to add another big piece in free agency.
The smart money is on Paul saying, and the Clippers shipping Bledsoe in a package that would net the Clippers an experienced player who would help them compete for a championship.
B: Bledsoe’s continued improvement is a big reason the Clippers have been careful not to trade him too soon. He is their safety net if Paul bolts, but he is also their most intriguing bargaining chip when they enter the trade market, looking for pieces to add to the team this summer if Paul stays.
The last player signed before the start of Clippers training camp to a veteran’s minimum deal ended up being one of the most productive players off the bench and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder in their last playoff game. Barnes played in all but two games this season (both due to suspension) and averaged a career-high 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds. He was one of the most consistent contributors off the bench, along with Crawford and Bledsoe.
10.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, .462 FG, .342 3FG: It was a career season for Barnes after two disappointing seasons with the Lakers. He seemed to thrive after doubters said he was finished and many teams passed up on him in the offseason when he was a free agent.
Outlook for 2013-14
Barnes is again a free agent but the chances of him being available a couple of weeks before the start of training camp for the minimum are slim to none. He’ll want a multiyear deal with a hefty raise and the Clippers are likely to give him one after letting him feel out the market. Despite his solid season, Barnes is 33 and has played for eight teams in 11 seasons. He’s not going to get a huge offer elsewhere and would like to stay in Los Angeles to be with his family. Barnes said during his exit interview that Paul has already started to recruit him to return next season.
“Chris and I have already been talking about it,” Barnes said. “We talked about it on the plane last night. He's obviously the franchise player but we also talked about what I was thinking about doing. Without giving anything away, he was doing his job (in recruiting me).”
Barnes would once again be a key in the Clippers’ second team and would likely see an even more prominent role if the Clippers end up dealing Bledsoe and/or Caron Butler in the offseason.
A: If you look at his production in relation to his salary, it’s hard to ask for much more from a guy making the minimum.
The Clippers acquired Odom in an offseason trade for Mo Williams and for much of this season, you had to think there must have been any number of trades that would have given the Clippers a better return for the former All-Star guard. There might even be some who still wonder that today.
Odom came into training camp a good 30 pounds overweight and it wasn’t until about midseason that he returned to his former playing weight. He would turn out to be a solid player for the Clippers off the bench and was one of only two players on the team who played in all 82 games.
"We took too long to come to fight," Chris Paul told reporters following the Memphis Grizzlies' 118-105 win over the Clippers, eliminating them from the playoffs in six games.
Well, that's partially true.
The Clippers fought hard in Games 1 and 2, winning both the rebounding margins and the games, even if Game 2's nail-biter instilled confidence in the Grizzlies. The three games that followed were disasters, though, as the Grizzlies comfortably controlled each from start to finish, leaving no doubt which team was better and more prepared.
In Game 6, the Clippers finally found a way to somewhat flummox the Grizzlies' frontcourt, with aggressive double-teams whenever Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol touched the ball near the post. This caused the Grizzlies to swing the ball around the perimeter to find the open man, often resulting in an outside shot -- a victory for the Clippers' defense.
But the success didn't last long, as the Clippers were limited in their options down low. With Blake Griffin's high right ankle sprain limiting him to just 14 minutes and Lamar Odom and DeAndre Jordan not performing to his liking, head coach Vinny Del Negro decided to roll the dice with small ball lineups -- featuring Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and even Caron Butler as big men -- to try to disrupt the Grizzlies' recently efficient offense.
If that is the case and these two West heavyweights face each other in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ 91-87 win on Saturday will give them home-court advantage. More than that, if last season and the four games they played this season are any indication, we could be in store for another classic playoff series in a couple of weeks.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
That’s their D.J.
The ceiling for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is high. That’s one of the biggest reasons that his current contract (four years, $43 million) is as high as that ceiling. Unfortunately for Jordan and the Clippers, Jordan hasn’t come close to that ceiling. He will often show glimpses of it, occasionally grazing it and teasing fans and coaches alike. Luckily for the Clippers, Saturday was one of those games. In perhaps the biggest regular-season game of the season for the Clippers, Jordan played one of his best games. He scored 10 points to open the game in the first quarter and had a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds at the half. Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but his mere presence on the court in the fourth quarter was a welcome sight as he had two key blocks at the end of the game.
The old man
Grant Hill, 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, and he’s also one of the most popular players in the Clippers locker room; younger teammates call him everything from “young fella” to “grandpa.” Hill, however, hadn’t seen much of the court recently. He hadn’t played in the previous five games before Saturday and only saw scarce action in three of the previous 13 games. Hill, who has been dealing with various injuries, simply fell out of the rotation in what he believes is the final season of his career. He might have worked his way back in after Saturday’s game. With Caron Butler playing only nine minutes and being sidelined for the rest of the game with a sore right knee, Hill was forced into action and delivered. With the Clippers trailing 77-72, Hill hit a 3-pointer and putback to tie the game. He also mixed in two blocks and a rebound to help spark a 14-0 run by the Clippers. It was an incredible performance by a player who not only hadn’t seen the court in two weeks but didn’t enter the game until the end of the third quarter. Hill was only part of a stellar night by the Clippers bench, which put up 40 points and helped the team snap the Grizzlies’ 13-game home winning streak and hand them their first loss in Memphis since Feb. 5.
While the Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets were surging after the NBA All-Star break and compiling two of the top four records in the league, the Clippers were languishing around the .500 mark and unable to string consecutive wins together. That’s a big reason why they were staring at the possibility of opening the playoffs on the road despite putting together the best season in team history and having the NBA's best first-half record. The Clippers have finally turned the corner, however, having won five straight games for the first time since their 17-game win streak in December and controlling their own destiny for home court in the first round. If they beat Portland and Sacramento to close out the season, they will have home court against the Grizzlies as the four-seed. If the Nuggets lose one of their final three games and the Clippers win out, the Clippers would have home court as the three-seed in a possible matchup against the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.
Yes, it has been a long time since the Clippers swept a season series from the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Oh wow," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said Saturday, when informed of the possibility his Clippers team would be the first to sweep the Lakers since 1975 if they can beat their Staples Center rivals Sunday afternoon.
"See, there's all these storylines that make for a good game," Crawford said, smiling. "I think that'd be pretty cool. The Lakers have been so dominant for so long, and we're trying to make our mark now. They have a huge history, and we're trying to make our own history."
The Clippers have beaten the Lakers by an average of 13 points in their three wins this season. Their magic number to clinch a first Pacific Division title is down to one -- a win Sunday or a Golden State Warriors loss would do the trick.
Currently in their 43rd season, the Clippers are on the brink of the first division title in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only two other active franchises haven't won a division title -- the Grizzlies (currently in their 18th season) and the Bobcats (currently in their ninth season).
The Clippers have already set a franchise record for wins in a season with 50.
All things to feel good about, but all accomplishments that could be undercut if the team doesn't match or exceed its second-round playoff exit from a season ago.
The Clippers have given 13 different players rotation-level minutes at some point in the season. That number will shrink to nine or 10 guys, at the most, in the playoffs. Tough choices will be made and egos will be bruised.
“It really depends on who’s healthy and who can go. We really haven’t had that consistently. It’s been different lineups for just health reasons,” Del Negro said at practice last week. “Hopefully we can sew that up as we move forward at the end.”
Here are a few postseason lineup tweaks the Clippers probably should make:
The closing lineup
The Clippers best lineup this season, by far, has been DeAndre Jordan at center, Blake Griffin at power forward, Matt Barnes at small forward, Jamal Crawford at shooting guard and Chris Paul at point guard.
The lineup scores 118.4 points per 100 possessions and allows just 90.2 points per 100 possessions defensively (+28.2 net rating), figures that would rank as both the NBA’s top offense and defense by a considerable margin.
Thus far, the Clippers have mainly closed games with Griffin, Barnes, Crawford, Paul and Lamar Odom, not Jordan. The lineup has done very well, scoring 111.5 points per 100 possessions and allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions (+8.4 net rating). It has been nowhere near as dominant as the lineup with Jordan in the middle, though.
Jordan’s inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, as well as his free-throw shooting woes, have made it difficult for Del Negro to fully trust Jordan with legitimate starter-level and closing-time minutes.
But the numbers say he should be out there.
“We need him big time,” Paul said of Jordan after last week’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. “I think he knows that and he needs to know that. With him in the game, he's a game-changer.”
With Jordan, the Clippers post a 57.0 rebounding percentage; replace him with Odom in that same lineup, and the figure drops to 49.8 percent. The same drop-off occurs offensively (60.4 true shooting percentage with Jordan; 54.6 percent with Odom).
Defensively, the Clippers see a significant boost in their 3-point defense with Jordan, allowing just 28.2 percent shooting on opposing 3-pointers, compared to 40.3 percent 3-point shooting with Odom.
It may run counter to Del Negro’s instincts, but Jordan should finish games.
The bench lineup
With Grant Hill constantly in and out of the lineup, and Eric Bledsoe’s recent injury, the bench has lacked the consistency and structure it had earlier in the season.
Since Jan. 1, the “Tribe Called Bench” lineup of Ronny Turiaf, Odom, Barnes, Crawford and Bledsoe has been outscored by 16.1 points per 100 possessions. But those numbers stem from a very small floor-time sample size (56 minutes).
To spark the struggling bench, Del Negro replaced Turiaf with Ryan Hollins in early February. The results have been abysmal.
Since Feb. 1, about the time Hollins took over as the bench’s center, the new lineup has been outscored by over 20 points per 100 possessions.
Neither Hollins (+0.5 points per 100 possessions) nor Turiaf (+3.8 points per 100 possessions) projects to play much in the postseason, but if one of them needs to be called off the bench, almost all signs point to Turiaf being the better choice.
The wildcards of the Clippers season have been Billups and Hill. If healthy, both will play vital roles in a playoff run. If not, the Clippers will start Willie Green and be stretched thin with Barnes and Butler as their only wing players with size.
The small ball bench lineup with Hill as a big man instead of Turiaf or Hollins has only played 42 minutes, but has been dominated on the glass (47.1 rebound percentage), struggled offensively (87.7 offensive rating) and been outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions. Designed around versatility and speed, the lineup might fare well against a team like the Denver Nuggets.
Against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Clippers briefly went with a lineup of Griffin, Barnes, Butler, Crawford and Paul down the stretch. The Clippers’ defense struggled, and in 32 minutes overall, the lineup has been disastrous (-25.1 net rating). Replace Crawford with Jordan, though, and the results are much better (+23.5 net rating), indicating the duo of Barnes and Butler can coexist on the wings.
An intriguing lineup of Jordan, Griffin, Barnes, Bledsoe, and Paul has only played 21 minutes and been outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions, but has shot efficiently and dominated the boards (62.1 rebounding percentage). The lineup oozes elite defensive potential and off-ball movement, and could have value against a long, athletic team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A realistic possibility, depending on the situation, is for Del Negro to finish with Odom, Griffin, Barnes, Billups and Paul. Crawford is the Clippers’ second-best shot creator behind Paul, but Billups has a reputation for making big shots and would alleviate pressure on Paul with his sound decision-making, shooting and court vision. This lineup has only played seven minutes, so it’s impossible to glean anything from the data, but it’s the type of veteran-savvy lineup coaches prefer.
For most of the season, the Clippers’ starters and bench players have played almost entirely separately.
Four of L.A.’s nine lineups that have played at least 100 minutes are entirely compromised of either starting players or bench players. Two other lineups feature either four starters and one bench player or four bench players and one starter.
Therefore, there will be a lot of inexperienced lineups in the postseason, as lineups will be mashed and new player combinations will be tested in the name of defeating the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Luckily, Paul, Griffin and Crawford will be on the floor at almost all times, mitigating any potential lulls.
Deciding who should play, who shouldn’t and more importantly when they should play is a difficult and delicate task.
The Clippers’ best chance of playing into June hinges on the coaching staff’s ability to strike the right balance between managing egos and deploying the right combinations, that will be their playing in June.
Stats from nba.com/stats
"Lawler's Law!" Collins said, referring to Lawler's decree that the first team to score 100 points wins.
"Last time it was 100 after three quarters," Collins continued. "But who remembers that?"
The Clippers didn't hit Lawler's Law until late in the fourth quarter, beating the Sixers on Wednesday night, 101-72. It was a win the Clippers desperately needed after losing three of their last five games.
With just 13 games left in the regular season, the Clippers are mere percentage points from being the No. 3 seed in the West or starting the first round of the playoffs on the road at either Memphis or Denver.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul powers through
Chris Paul doesn't like to talk about injuries, especially this time of year, but there was no hiding the kinesiology tape that was around his left shoulder and the ice pack taped to the shoulder before the game. In fact, it was so painful Paul could hardly put his shirt and jersey on before the game on his own without wincing in pain. Paul, however, played Wednesday night and finished with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds in just 31 minutes. It was a strong performance at a time when the Clippers desperately needed it. Paul responded well to a rough night in Sacramento on Tuesday where he hit only 2-of-10 shots and committed seven turnovers. On Wednesday he was 8-for-10 with four turnovers.
Bench is back
After being outscored the previous three games, the Clippers' bench responded Wednesday by outscoring the 76ers' bench 42-25. Despite the absence of Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Grant Hill, the Clippers got contributions from six players, including Maalik Wayns and DaJuan Summers, two players who recently signed 10-day contracts. Jamal Crawford scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, and Ryan Hollins had a solid night with 10 points and six rebounds.
Yes, playing the 76ers can do wonders for a lot of teams, but after getting torched from the perimeter recently, the Clippers could at least look at the stat sheet and smile after Wednesday night's win. The Sixers only scored 72 points, which is a season low for a Clippers opponent this season. The Sixers also shot just 36.7 percent from the field. Even more impressive for the Clippers is that they held the Sixers to just 30 percent from 3-point range (3-for-20) after letting teams hit nearly 50 percent recently. The Clippers need to have similar defensive efforts against the top teams in the league, and they can only hope to parlay Wednesday's win into something more. Next week, the Clippers go on the road for a four-game trip that could go a long way in deciding where they finish in the Western Conference standings.
It’s no surprise that the Clippers have struggled with injuries this season. Besides Blake Griffin (23), DeAndre Jordan (24) and Eric Bledsoe (23), the Clippers aren’t exactly a young team. Still, they have arguably the deepest roster in the league, so if any team is capable of withstanding a myriad of injuries, it’s this group. With that said, keep an eye on the status of Paul’s knee -- if he’s banged up even a little bit, the Clippers are extremely vulnerable.
The Clippers have a relatively easy schedule down the stretch, playing 15 of their final 26 games at home, where L.A. is 21-5. They face San Antonio twice, Oklahoma City once, Memphis twice, Indiana twice and New York once, but besides those eight games, the rest of their schedule is more or less against subpar teams (they have 13 games against teams currently under .500). Expect the Clippers to head into the playoffs with considerable momentum.
Even when they reeled off their 17-game win streak earlier this season, the Clippers couldn’t separate themselves from the Spurs and Thunder. After suffering a setback with Paul out of the lineup, the Clippers (39-17) find themselves closer to the fourth-place Memphis Grizzlies (34-18) than they do to the first-place Spurs (42-12). Their cupcake schedule will give them some breathing room over the Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets, but do the Clippers have enough in the tank to make a run at a top-two seed? It could determine whether they advance to the conference finals or not.
A point of contention this season has been the topic of who should close games. Vinny Del Negro has publicly stated he prefers the hot hand, but for the most part, the Clippers finish games with Griffin, Paul and Barnes, and then either Crawford or Billups at shooting guard and Odom or Jordan at center. The lineups with Crawford and either big man have crushed opponents, while Billups’ sample size is too small to yet reach a clear analysis of it. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see which lineup gets the nod in crunch time of a vital playoff game.
CP3 for MVP
If not for LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s otherworldly dominance, Paul would likely be the leading MVP candidate. Look no further than his performance at the All-Star Game in Houston to see his control over a glorified pickup game with the game’s best players. The Clippers’ record speaks for itself -- they’re 33-11 with Paul and 6-6 without him. To say they look lost offensively without him would be an understatement. If Paul can lead a late Clipper rally and the team grabs a top-two seed, he’ll have a shot at crashing the presumed two-man party for MVP.
Griffin’s second half improvement
Last season, Griffin’s shooting percentage in the 16-23 feet range improved to 39 percent after the All-Star break. Over the past 20 games, Griffin’s points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage have dramatically risen, so there’s reason to think he may continue to improve after the All-Star break. In particular, his passing has been impressive of late -- he’s at nearly five assists a night over that stretch.
In most of the Clippers’ losses to lottery bound teams, the central theme has been their inability to defend 3-pointers. According to Grantland’s Zach Lowe (http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/42920/unit-watch-the-heats-problem-on-defense), only two teams have made the conference finals between 1998-99 and 2010-11 while allowing above-average 3-point attempts and an above-average 3-point shooting percentage. The Clippers do both, ranking 24th in opponent 3-point attempts and 25th in opponent 3-point percentage. The Spurs and Thunder are among the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, so the Clippers will be in serious trouble if they can’t shore up this defensive flaw come playoff time.
Small forward rotation
The emergence of a healthy Grant Hill has brought about an interesting question: How will the wing minutes be dispersed as the rotations tighten? Recently, Del Negro has deployed either Hill or Barnes at power forward to create a smaller, faster second-unit lineup and assure ample minutes for his three small forwards. But when the playoffs roll around, there won’t be as many minutes available. Playing time will likely fluctuate on a game-by-game basis, but there will be instances when someone who is accustomed to playing is relegated to the bench.
A Tribe Called Bench
Which “Tribe Called Bench” will we get for the rest of the season? After captivating the league for almost half the season, things have cooled down substantially. Replacing Ronny Turiaf with Ryan Hollins hasn’t been beneficial; the original bench lineup has a +11.3 net rating with Turiaf, and a -1.1 net rating with Hollins. The new small ball lineup (Odom, Hill, Barnes, Crawford, Bledsoe) has been even worse, posting an anemic -13.0 net rating. It remains to be seen if the group can regain its mojo. But if the Clippers keep winning, does it matter?
Stats for this piece are from ESPN.com, HoopData.com and NBA.com.
It has become a normal postgame image for the 40-year-old Hill this season but on Sunday his performance was anything but normal.
After sitting on the bench for the first half and not playing at all in Friday’s loss to the Miami Heat, Grant Hill played the final 15 minutes and 21 seconds against the New York Knicks and effectively shut down Carmelo Anthony who had scored 38 points through three quarters on 13 of 24 shooting. After Hill entered the game and started guarding Anthony, the Knicks star had only 4 points on 1 of 2 shooting with two turnovers.
Chris Paul couldn’t stop singing the praises of Hill after the game, saying, “I think the game ball goes to Grant Hill.” Vinny Del Negro added, "I thought Grant was the difference in the game."
“Grant guarded me for the five or six years whenever I played against Phoenix,” Paul said. “Steve Nash never guarded me. Chauncey (Billups) was talking about when he was in Denver, Grant used to do a great job on him too. He’s just smart. He never rests. He’s always bothering you and messing with you. He does a great job. He understands you can’t give a guy, especially the best scorer in the league, a steady diet of the same defense.”
Anthony said that the Clippers’ defensive adjustments and having Hill guarding him did at the end of the game did affect his performance. Hill simply smiled when he was asked his secret to defending Anthony. He wouldn’t tip his hand but admitted there are certain tricks of the trade you gain when you’ve been playing in the league for 19 years.
“I’ve battled against him. He’s a great player,” Hill said. “I have as much respect for him. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. You just try to do things to make it difficult. And you have to have selective memory because when he hits a shot, you’ve just got to be able to move on to the next play. He’s a great player and I enjoy the challenge.”
This was the reason Hill was signed in the off-season by the Clippers. They viewed him as a veteran defender who could make life hard on the likes of Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. No one is going to shut those players down but if you can frustrate them and make it hard for them, you’ve done your job and on Sunday Hill certainly did his job.
"He came in and provided a great presence on there on Melo," Jamal Crawford said. "I don't think we win that game without him."
Hill was sidelined for the first 36 games of the season with a bone bruise in his right knee and is just now getting comfortable again on the court. If the Clippers can add a healthy Hill to the mix as a defender that can at least get under the skin of the oppositin's top scorer, their already deep bench suddenly will add another demention they've been sorely missing.
“That’s what he does for us,” Blake Griffin said. “He and Matt (Barnes) are our two utility guys and do whatever we ask of them. (On Sunday) it was to slow down Melo and he did an unbelievable job. To sit over there for three quarters and do that is huge.”
Paul was still marveling at the way Hill is able to play at 40 years old after the game, shaking his head at the prospect of him doing the same later in his career.
“I tell him all the time, I will not be 40 years old and playing in this league” Paul said. “I wish I could but I can’t. It’s tremendous for Grant. He has great heart and determination and he’s always staying ready.”
NEW YORK -- This was a position the Los Angeles Clippers had been in several times before while Chris Paul was in a suit and on the bench.
They would be in a one- or two-possession game late and somehow, some way, find a way to lose it at the end. These were games where they held the lead in the fourth quarter and slowly saw it slip away as Paul could do nothing but try to coach from the bench. With Paul back on the floor, however, the Clippers found a way to win and beat the New York Knicks, 102-88.
It was easily the Clippers' most impressive victory on what has been an otherwise forgettable 3-4 Grammy road trip. Perhaps the best thing that has come out of the trip besides Sunday's win is the fact that Paul, Chauncey Billups and the rest of the injured Clippers are finally back on the floor again as the team wraps up their road trip Monday night in Philadelphia.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
CP3 is back
Sure, Paul’s first game back from his bruised right kneecap was Friday night against the Miami Heat, but after scoring only 3 points on 1-of-5 shooting with three turnovers in 20 minutes, you can basically call that a warmup for his game on Sunday. Paul looked like his old self again as he had 25 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds and got the Clippers off to a solid start as he had 9 points on 3-of-4 shooting, including hitting 2 3-pointers, in the first quarter. Paul was also the difference late in the game as he scored seven points in the fourth quarter and made one key shot after another to help seal the win for the Clippers.
A Tribe Called Bench
It was only fitting that a trip to New York would also bring the return of “A Tribe Called Bench.” After taking a hiatus with so many bench players thrust into starting roles, the band was finally back together in Madison Square Garden. More importantly, the second unit backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford was finally back together again and causing nightmares for opposing benches. Crawford finished with 27 points on 12-of-22 shooting while Bledsoe had 13 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds. As good as Bledsoe was in relief of Paul for a dozen games, Sunday was a perfect example of why he is much better in his role of spark plug off the bench who plays about 18-20 minutes per game.
Still not healthy
The big storyline heading into Friday’s game against the Miami Heat was that the Clippers were finally fully healthy for this first time this season. The problem, is Grant Hill didn’t play on Friday with knee issues (he played 15 minutes on Sunday) and against the Knicks, Caron Butler was sidelined for the second half and only played 12 minutes with a sore lower back. Butler will likely be a game-time decision Monday at Philadelphia, but the Clippers’ “healthy” run didn’t last very long. Not that they looked particularly great on Friday in Miami when they were all available to play.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers knew things would not be easy without Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups.
The beauty of a backcourt like that is the ability of Billups, a five-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP, to simply slide over and play point guard if anything happened to Paul. Of course, when both Paul and Billups are out things get a little trickier. Suddenly, Eric Bledsoe is the starting point guard and the Clippers have to lean on Jamal Crawford or Grant Hill to bring the ball up the court with the second unit.
That led to four straight losses for the Clippers, who were tied for the best record in the NBA at the midway point of the season (32-9) before their losing streak.
The Clippers finally put an end to the streak Sunday night with a 96-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. With Oklahoma City's loss earlier in the day, the Clippers are just 1.5 games behind the Thunder.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Blake Griffin has certainly stepped up in the absence of Paul. One night after posting 24 points and 10 assists at Portland, Griffin responded with 23 points and nine assists against the Blazers in L.A. Griffin finished just one assist shy of becoming the first power forward to post back-to-back 20-point and 10-assist games since Chris Webber in 2005, according to Basketball Reference. Griffin has also improved his free-throw shooting, hitting 9 of 11 over the last two games. Griffin has had to become more of a leader in the absence of Paul, a role he's not particularly comfortable with but one that has slowly grown on him over the past week.
The Clippers' bench has usually been able to rely on a big scoring night from either Crawford or Matt Barnes. On a night when the Clippers led by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, they just needed solid nights from their two best bench players. Crawford finished with nine points and five assists while Barnes had seven points and four rebounds. The key was the Clippers were able to get contributions from Lamar Odom (eight points, 13 rebounds), Grant Hill (six points, two assists) and Ronny Turiaf (six points, two rebounds).
As much as the Clippers miss Paul and Billups, it doesn't look as if they will be getting either one back soon. Paul is certainly expected back before Billups, but Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro did not have a timetable for either player's return when asked pregame. That means that Bledsoe must continue to develop as a starting point guard and Willie Green must continue to give them more than he previously had as a starter. On Sunday, Bledsoe finished with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists while Green had seven points, one rebound and no assists. The Clippers will obviously need more from them on a consistent basis without Paul and Billups but as long as Griffin is averaging around 23 points and nine assists, the Clippers should be fine.
PG: Chris Paul
Season averages (39 GP): 16.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 9.7 APG, 2.6 SPG, 26.1 PER
Don’t let his numbers fool you: Paul is playing at an MVP-caliber level. Besides LeBron James and Kevin Durant, no player has a better statistical résumé. Paul is third in PER and second in win shares per 48 minutes, and he has guided the Clippers to a top-five rating on offense and defense. The only qualms would be that he has struggled with his 3-point shot (33.3 percent) and is sometimes too passive early in games, but it’s tough to chide one of the three best players in basketball.
SG: Willie Green
Season averages (40 GP): 6.5 PPG, 39.6 3PT%, 11.4 PER
Green’s role has fluctuated throughout the season, but his consistency has not. He has stayed within his offensive limitations, serving as a reliable spot-up 3-point shooter. His defense has been poor -- opposing shooting guards register a 58.2 eFG% and 16.9 PER against him -- but that’s somewhat negated by his playing only 18.2 minutes per game. When Chauncey Billups returns, Green will go back to the bench and play limited minutes.
SF: Caron Butler
Season averages (41 GP): 9.7 PPG, 38.6 3PT%, 11.7 PER
After serving as a key contributor last season, Butler has become a complementary player on a deep roster. That’s not to say he hasn’t been effective -- he’s transformed his game and has become the Clippers’ much-needed floor spacer (40.7 percent on spot-up 3-pointers), as evidenced by his 33-point and 29-point performances this season. He’s lost a few steps defensively (340th in defensive points per play), which has allowed Matt Barnes to soak up a lot of Butler's minutes.
PF: Blake Griffin
Season averages (43 GP): 18.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 22.8 PER
All the offseason talk was about Griffin’s improved jump shot, and it has improved, but his passing skills are rarely discussed. Among power forwards, he’s third in assists per game, 10th in assist rate, and third in assists leading to 3-pointers (the most valuable assist). Most importantly, he has improved tremendously on defense, allowing the 18th-fewest points per play. Add in his new post game, and Griffin has become a near-complete player.
C: DeAndre Jordan
Season averages (43 GP): 8.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 59.6 FG%, 16.6 PER
While Jordan has become more efficient offensively (career-high 13.0 points per 36 minutes), his free throw shooting (42.0 percent) and rebounding (16.6 rebounding percentage) have regressed and limited his playing time. The threat of him scoring, especially at the rim (fifth in dunks), is valuable and gives Paul and Griffin proper space to operate. Coach Vinny Del Negro clearly favors Odom in crunch time, though, which is a disconcerting sign for Jordan’s playoff role.
G: Jamal Crawford
Season averages (41 GP): 16.6 PPG, 2.4 APG, 88.6 FT%, 16.7 PER
Crawford was scorching hot to start the season, averaging 20.7 points through the first nine games. He has cooled off since then but remains the go-to option on a second unit that lacks shot creators. If not for Barnes’ versatility, Crawford would be the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s established himself as the third option in crunch time and, more importantly, has been a willing passer and off-ball player (career-high 54 percent of shots assisted on).
G: Eric Bledsoe
Season averages (43 GP): 8.7 PPG, 1.5 SPG, 38.9 3PT%, 19.2 PER
The bench’s energizer bunny has had an up-and-down season, which isn’t unusual for a third-year point guard. Still, there’s no denying Bledsoe’s potential as a starter and future All Star. He’s displayed a new sense of pace and control (career-low turnover percentage) that, coupled with his stout defensive abilities (2.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes), has GMs drooling to acquire him. His block of Dwyane Wade remains the top Clippers highlight this season.
F/G: Matt Barnes
Season averages (42 GP): 11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 17.7 PER
The surprise player of the Clippers’ season has done everything they expected Grant Hill to do and more. Barnes is shooting at a career-high level (35.7 percent on 3-pointers), defends the opponent’s top scorer each night, and is as active off the ball as any player in the league. There’s no better bargain in the NBA than his minimum-salary contract. Barnes’ perimeter defense may be the greatest factor in determining how far L.A. advances in the postseason.
F/C: Lamar Odom
Season averages (43 GP): 3.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 10.5 PER
At the beginning of the season, we weren’t sure whether Odom could run up and down the court for 10 minutes, let alone produce. Fast-forward three months, and he’s become the player the Clippers envisioned over the offseason. His rebounding rate (10th defensively, 18th overall) is outstanding, and there’s never been any doubt that Odom is among the game’s best passing big men. Moving forward, he needs to shoot better (38.1 FG%) to justify an uptick in minutes.
F: Grant Hill:
Season averages (6 GP): 4.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 9.6 PER
His Clippers debut took a lot longer than expected, but it appears he was worth the wait. Though his jumper has been rusty (13 percent from 16-23 feet), he’s finished around the rim efficiently (75 percent) and moved well off the ball. The Clippers’ new bench unit features Hill at power forward, yet he’s defended everyone from Russell Westbrook to Emeka Okafor. His defensive versatility allows the Clippers to switch any screen under the sun.
F/C: Ronny Turiaf
Season averages (41 GP): 2.2 PPG, 0.7 BPG, 56.1 FG%, 10.5 PER
Known for his infectious attitude, Turiaf does more than simply cheer from the bench (team-high 92.9 defensive rating). Along with Odom, Turiaf has manned the backline of the bench’s stellar defense and has protected the rim in ways L.A. sorely lacked last season (2.0 blocks per 36 minutes). With Hill back, it’s likely Turiaf will lose his rotation spot, but he’s nice insurance if Jordan or Griffin gets into foul trouble.
C: Ryan Hollins
Season averages (30 GP): 2.4 PPG, 0.5 BPG, 59.5 FG%, 9.1 PER
Hollins is the only healthy player consistently racking up DNP-CDs, which is the downside of having such a deep roster. Like Turiaf, though, Hollins was signed as an insurance policy, not as a rotation player. In limited minutes, Hollins has done what he always does -- score at the rim, block shots (2.0 per 36 minutes), barely rebound (12.1 rebound percentage) and foul a lot (career-high 8.5 per 36 minutes).
G: Chauncey Billups
Season averages (3 GP): 7.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 12.5 PER
The Clippers are such a deep team that most people forget Billups has missed all but three games. Though there is only a small sample size to go on, the results are encouraging: The Clippers are a much better with Billups on the floor (+16.9 net rating). When he eventually suits up, L.A. can expect an increase in 3-point shooting and sound decision-making (9.6 turnovers per-48 minutes) as well as another clutch scorer to alleviate the pressure on Paul.
F: Trey Thompkins:
Season averages (0 GP): N/A
Thompkins didn’t play much last season, and with a slew of big men already ahead of him on the depth chart and no set timetable for his return, it appears that he won't see any floor time this season either.
Stats used from ESPN.com, NBA.com, MySynergySports.com and 82games.com.
The Clippers have had the boards hanging in the room for years. It was usually a cruel reminder of their place in the NBA. Some players even wondered what purpose it served.
This season, however, it has been a source of motivation and a daily reminder of how far the Clippers have come.
At the halfway point of the season, the Clippers were tied for the best record in the NBA and in the hunt for the top seed in the West.
It’s a remarkable spot for a franchise that has made the playoffs only five times in Los Angeles and has never won more than 47 games in a season since 1977.
But are the Clippers really championship contenders or simply an exciting basketball team that will fizzle out in the postseason as they did last season?
I talked to three former coaches who have watched the Clippers this season to get their take on the Clippers’ playoff chances: Mike Dunleavy, who coached the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers over 20 years and is currently the co-host of SiriusXM’s “Off The Dribble”; Dr. Jack Ramsay, who coached the Philadelphia 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers over 20 years and is currently an ESPN analyst; and Mike Fratello, who coached the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies over 20 years and is currently a TNT analyst.
Though some have questioned whether the Clippers’ style will translate to the more deliberate pace of playoff basketball, each of the coaches I spoke to said he felt the Clippers’ regular-season success is sustainable in the postseason.
“It’s sustainable because of Chris Paul,” Dunleavy said. “You have a guy that is a great floor general and a guy that is a great closer. You go back a couple of years when he was in New Orleans, and he nearly took the Lakers to Game 7 in their playoff series virtually by himself. There were some other players, of course, but for the most part, it was all Chris Paul. Based off what he’s able to do off pick-and-rolls and creating opportunity baskets where people have to double-team him, he’s able to create easy opportunities for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. He also has the ability to get to the rim and create open shots for guys that have the ability to knock shots down like Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler.”
Ramsay also emphasized the value of having Paul at the helm.
“Chris Paul has a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize what a very good defender he is on the ball and as a help defender. They have good basket defense, and Paul can get shots for himself and his teammates almost at will. Nobody seems to have an answer for his skills on the offensive end.”
For all the highlights of “Lob City,” Paul, along with veterans like Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill, has helped younger players on the team, such as Griffin and Jordan, recognize how to play and stay focused on the team’s ultimate goal -- winning a championship.
“[Paul] gets his teammates to buy into what he’s saying,” Fratello said. “I think he’s probably responsible for the maturity of his power forward and center. They’re two young guys who maybe get it a little bit more now and understand it a little bit better now because of Chris, Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill who might say, ‘No, no, no, this is where our heads are today’ or ‘Cut that out. That’s not going to help us win tonight.’ Those are the little things that veteran guys give you.”
Still, the team will be hard-pressed to duplicate its frenetic pace against the defensive pressure of playoff basketball. While Fratello doesn’t see any glaring weaknesses in the Clippers’ attack, Dunleavy and Ramsay both wonder how they’ll respond when teams tighten up defensively.
“The nights that teams do a great job transition-wise and don’t let them get numbers, it’s hard for them to win,” Dunleavy said. “They also don’t have that one big guy in the low post. Blake is really an above-the-rim guy. He’s getting better all the time playing in the low post, but you’d like to have that one guy when things go a little cold you can throw the ball into the low post and have a great opportunity of coming out with a score. You can say Blake is getting to be that guy, but there are still some hiccups there between him and DeAndre with their free throw shooting late in games.”
Not only did Ramsay think the Clippers’ free throw shooting was an issue, but he also wasn’t sure if Crawford and Matt Barnes could give the Clippers the same kind of punch off the bench in the postseason as they have been able to provide during the regular season.
“They’re getting good performances from a lot of people who have not had a history of that in their careers,” Ramsay said. “They’re going to have to perform at a high level in the playoffs when the games are very closely contested. Can they keep coming up with big plays like they have pretty consistently in the regular season? They seem to think so.”
Each coach complimented the job Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has done, but there’s no question he is as inexperienced as most of his players are when it comes to winning in the postseason. He is 8-15 in the playoffs as a coach and has never made it out of the second round.
Fratello is convinced this season will be different for Del Negro and the Clippers.
“They are deep, and they have the ability of playing big and playing small,” he said. “They have inside presence, outside presence, shot-blocking ability. … They have all the pieces that are necessary. This is a well-put-together roster. It’s a good mixture of veteran guys for leadership and experience and the young and athletic guys that make it a fun and exciting game to watch. It’s a really good group.”
“I don’t think he’ll play any minutes today,” Del Negro told the team’s official website. “Just with the back-to-back games and the fatigue factor.”
It is the first game Hill has missed since missing the first 36 games of the season with bone bruises in his right knee. Hill is averaging 4.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in the five games he has played this season while playing 14.4 minutes per game.
Meanwhile Clippers guard Chris Paul will start his second straight game after missing three games with a bruised right knee cap.
“He was a little sore yesterday,” Del Negro said. “But he's feeling better today."
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul is an NBA League Pass addict.
While some players like to get away from basketball when they're not playing, Paul is normally transfixed to his television or iPad.
He can recite the NBA standings and the upcoming league schedule by memory.
He makes sure he's not alone. He will quiz his 3-year-old son, Chris II, on the league while they are watching games together.
"Memphis," Paul will say.
"Grizzlies!" his son will shout.
"Who plays center for the Lakers?" Paul will ask.
"Dwight Howard!" his son will answer.
Even when Paul is sitting on the bench, watching his Los Angeles Clippers play, he will often feel as if he's watching a game from the previous night.
That was the case Saturday as the Clippers went up by 13 points only to watch the Orlando Magic come back after trailing the entire game to win 104-101 and snap the Clippers' 13-game home winning streak.
"When I'm playing in a game, sometimes I feel like I'm at home watching the game on League Pass," Paul said. "You'll be watching the game and a team will be up by 22, and the next thing you know, they're up five. You hate to let that happen when you're actually involved in the game, but it happens."
It happened to the Clippers on Saturday largely because they attempted (and made) only six free throws as a team. In fact, the Clippers' starters and four of their reserves combined to shoot just one free throw. Meanwhile, the Magic were 15-of-19 from the free throw line. Orlando also had 22 second-chance points compared to seven for the Clippers.
"We only shot six free throws," Paul said. "That's unheard of, especially when Blake [Griffin] shoots 22 shots and he shoots no free throws. That's not typical for us. I play on the perimeter, but he plays inside. He can shoot two free throws on accident."
Another reason for the Clippers' lackluster performance was the play of their normally potent bench, which welcomed Grant Hill for the first time this season. The Clippers' bench was outscored by Orlando's 37-33, with Hill contributing two points in six minutes. It's only the 10th time this season the Clippers' bench has been outscored.