After their first loss in Utah, questions surround Clippers

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
A crushing first loss in the final seconds against the Jazz puts Clippers in a predicament early.

SALT LAKE CITY — After one of the best performances we have seen from the Clippers in the last 3 years in their season opener, Friday night in Utah was a major disappointment. While the Clippers did shoot the ball well all game, so did the Jazz, which is why there are early concerns regarding the Clipper defense. 

Kawhi Leonard had the ball in his hands with a chance to tie or win the game in the final possession as Jordan Clarkson guarded him. Usually in these scenarios you would think that Leonard would rise to the occasion, but in this one he did not. 

Leonard was swarmed by Clarkson, who played admirable defense, and put up a highly contested three which shot off the rim to Russell Westbrook who put up an airball as time expired. 

Reports after the game suggest that there was an incredibly quiet locker room and many players hanging their heads, which is something you do not usually see in the second game of the season. 

But this season is different for the Clippers and much was made about getting out to a hot start and proving themselves again as a contender. With a loss like this, it again raises question marks, but this time, way earlier than anybody expected…

Here are my three takeaways:

The Defense Is Not As Stout As We Thought  

Surely a lineup of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Robert Covington and Ivica Zubac should stop the Utah Jazz right? If there was a narrator for this article, he would say “they did not.” The Clippers go to the weekend with a defense that ranks in the bottom five overall and dead last in defensive rebounding. 

That is simply unacceptable considering the talk coming out of training camp and preseason. This team has their best defensive starting lineup on the floor and just couldn’t get it done against the Jazz. Albeit, the Jazz did shoot the lights out of the ball and looked like an elite offense led by Lauri Markannen. Nonetheless, contending teams find out how to get stops down the stretch and the Clippers just couldn’t. 

Offensive Chemistry Looks Sharp  

While a lot was made about the defense, the offense has been excellent so far. Yes there are turnover issues with more than 15 per game in the first two games, but the Clippers rank 2nd in the NBA in offense overall. Granted, it is only two games, but the fact that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been on fire and Bones Hyland has been an early season revelation is an excellent sign. 

Paul George had 39 points in Utah and is averaging 31.5 PPG in these first two games, picking his spots, getting to the rim and pulling up from the perimeter with ease. Kawhi Leonard is averaging 24.0 PPG on 48.7% shooting and has also looked spry with his legs under him, which is something he did not have at this point last year. 

These two have it going on and they are getting solid contributions from Bones Hyland (who has been in double figures in both games) and Norm Powell. So there are bright spots, but with a long season ahead, I expect the team as a whole to continue to grow on the offensive end. 

This Team Doesn’t Need a Harden Trade Now

I know there is a lot of pushback on the Clippers part to include Terance Mann in any deal for James Harden and I fully back them. No team makes a blockbuster trade this early in the season and for this Clipper team, it is best to wait until December at the very least to even start talking to teams. 

There was plenty of talk about how great the chemistry was at the end of training camp and how the vibes were at an all-time high throughout preseason. Why make a move now? Why sabotage that same energy and chemistry by trading away a solid connector piece in Mann? Even after a loss against Utah and plenty of questions surrounding this team as if it were the middle of March, there is no reason to make a big splash…yet.

The Clippers head back home to take on Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM PST.