LOS ANGELES – Well, it was bound to happen at some point. The Clippers could not get anything going on Wednesday in their first game back from the “Grammy Trip,” behind lackluster shooting and tired legs. It just seemed as if the entire team was one step behind a fresh New Orleans Pelicans squad, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shooting 7/25 combined from the field and 1/11 from three point range. After a long and successful trip to the East Coast, the travel finally got to them, and it showed across the entirety of the game.
The Clippers are now 34-16 and fall to the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
Here are my three takeaways:
Kawhi Leonard has entered himself into MVP conversations due to his torrid stretch of excellent two-way play, but against the Pelicans he was out of sorts all night. Missed free throws, open three-pointers, and turnovers doomed the Clippers at the hands of both of the stars. Paul George in particular, shot 0-9 in the first half and just 3/15 overall with three turnovers.
George has been off for some time now, and it seems like his nagging groin injury has completely drained his efficiency as he hasn’t gone over 20 points since the first game of the road trip. I believe that these two need the All-Star break in order to reset and lock in for the stretch run, not just mentally, but physically as well. They were both named to the All-Star team for a reason, and although George has had a bad stretch, I fully expect him to break out of this mini slump when play returns.
Powell has been one of the best bench players in the NBA, as well as a lights out three-point shooter (even though not selected to go to the Three Point Contest). Not just that, but Powell has usually closed with the three stars down the stretch of games due to his athleticism and pure scoring. Powell has not been in single digits since the blowout in Boston, and has remained ultra efficient while doing so.
Powell has turned in an excellent season and is crucial for times like these in the middle of the season where there is lower energy and a spark is needed. It seems to be an almost immediate difference when Norm, Russell Westbrook, and Amir Coffey come into the game. Although it resulted in a loss on Wednesday, he still added 18 points on 7/15 to keep the Clippers close for a majority of the game, and will be crucial in these games in the middle of the season.
James Harden had 30 points to end the road trip in Atlanta, and came out hot against the Pelicans as well. He hit five of his six three pointers to lead the Clippers in points with 19. Add that to 8 rebounds and 5 assists in his team high 38 minutes, and you will see why he is so crucial to the team’s success. Much like I mentioned about Norman Powell, Harden can carry the team to close games and some wins when fatigue sets in, and it seems he has done just that in the most crucial times.
Before these two games, there was almost a lack of aggressiveness from Harden that we hadn’t seen since the Clippers first acquired him, but it seems he is back to scoring mode as well. Obviously working Ivica Zubac back into shape will take some time and hurt the assist numbers for Harden, but he is still an elite scorer and one that can bail out the team on tough offensive possessions. Look for him to be more aggressive while Leonard and George coast during these “dog days” of the season.
The Clippers will now get a few days off and take on the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. Tip-off in Los Angeles is set for 12:30 PM.