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Home » Clippers Ready for Final Push: ‘We Have What We Need’

Clippers Ready for Final Push: ‘We Have What We Need’

18 February 2023, Saturday
The calendar may suggest the Clippers have until mid-April to prepare for the playoffs, but in reality, their seeding and readiness for the post-season depend on what happens from next week, post the All-Star break. The Clippers, with a 33-28 record and in fourth place in the Western Conference, were in a rush to leave Phoenix following a win on Thursday, after having to cope with the stress of playing a league-high-tying 61 games and the Feb. 9 trade deadline. Nevertheless, the team has to be prepared for the urgency that awaits them when they get back to practice.

The Pistons' schedule resumes on February 24th with a game against the third-place Sacramento team. On February 26th, they will visit the first-place Denver, also serving as a reunion with former guard Reggie Jackson. On February 28th, they will play at home against the eighth-place Minnesota. Then they will face ninth-place Golden State in a back-to-back road game on March 2nd and the Sacramento team the following day. This will be followed by a five-game homestand starting March 5th against second-place Memphis.

The remaining opponents the Hornets face boast the second-highest combined winning percentage (.523) in the league, according to Tankathon. This makes for a formidable playoff-like atmosphere, which is something that Nicolas Batum finds exciting. 

"It's going to be playoff preseason basketball," Batum said Thursday. "That's good, though. It will get us ready for our next goal, so I like that."

The early effects of incorporating trade-deadline additions Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland and Mason Plumlee have been promising for the Clippers. Having a full-time backup big man to the starting center Ivica Zubac has allowed their rotations to make more sense.

Plumlee's presence has helped the Clippers avoid playing smaller lineups that can be more susceptible to defensive breakdowns. Coach Tyronn Lue can now rely on three-guard lineups composed of Gordon, Hyland and Norman Powell, knowing that Plumlee's size provides cover if mistakes on defense happen. This is an area that the Clippers still need to improve.

The Los Angeles Clippers have found a complementary piece for center Ivica Zubac in the form of Mason Plumlee. With Plumlee in the rotation, Zubac has been able to receive some rest instead of being overburdened with heavy minutes. The result has been encouraging, as the Clippers surrender 97 points per 100 possessions when Plumlee is on the floor as opposed to 129.5 when he is on the bench. Star forward Kawhi Leonard has noticed the impact Plumlee has had on Zubac's play, stating "it gives Zu a chance to get some rest rather than play those big minutes." Malik Batum has echoed Leonard's sentiments, saying "I think you can see less pressure on Zu [Zubac]. I think Zu played with more freedom the last two games." Despite the encouraging start, Plumlee believes there is still much more to work on in the final 20 games of the season.

The newly-enhanced bench has made Batum feel as though he is now playing with four starting-caliber players, and Lue is not dismissing the prospect of Gordon starting.

“We have no other choice,” the coach says in reference to the 21-game season being enough to have them ready for the playoffs.

Leonard, a two-time NBA champion, remarks that the Clippers are not quite at the championship level yet and being asked what it will take for them to get there, he answers that “it’s a feel, hard to explain”.

To Paul George, an all-star forward, the major obstacle to reaching his full potential lies in consistency. The discrepancy between the Clippers’ best and worst performances is too great.

“We need to establish an identity; one that is reflected every night when the game starts. We have the tools: playmakers, scorers, and defensive stoppers. We just have to bring it all together and create a cohesive identity that can keep us going throughout the postseason. ”

George’s statement that the Clippers possess “everything we need” constitutes a stark contrast to previous statements made by him and starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. last week, which stressed the need for a traditional point guard, particularly Russell Westbrook. As of now, Westbrook has not been bought out by Utah but he has been granted permission to start bargaining with possible teams.

The debates on the possible buyout of the Clippers’ backcourt had kept the spotlight firmly on the team’s ability to move the ball and pass it. However, the first game the Clippers played using the three new players, Tuesday versus the Golden State Warriors, saw them tying their season-high of 33 assists. The Clippers’ average number of passes against the Warriors and the Suns was 299, an increase of 24 from their season average.

Tyronn Lue believed the Cavaliers' new energy could bring a sustainable offensive strategy. He noticed Darius Garland, Colin Sexton and Mason Plumlee working together to push the ball into the paint and make plays. Lue, who typically is outspoken about traditional-point-guard play, instructed Garland not to try and force that role, but instead to take scoring opportunities while making the right play.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue discussed the importance of playing to each individual's strengths following their victory over the Phoenix Suns. He specifically cited Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley as players who could provide a spark off the bench and knew how to play the game correctly. He then highlighted Luke Hyland, who had previously scored on two drives in which he had created his own shot.

Lue was confident that Hyland “has the pace and speed to get into the paint and make the right play”. As the Clippers prepare to resume their schedule, the question then remains whether or not they can get off to a strong start.
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