The Clippers have been absolutely scorching hot. They have gone 25-5 in their past 30 games. Recently, they went 6-1 on a grueling road trip that included 2 separate sets of 3-games-in-4 days. The Clippers have by far the best offense in the league since December 1. Despite this immense success, certain key figures in the organization are unhappy with the current LA Clippers defense.
LA Clippers Looking to Fortify Defense
Key Figures in Organization Comment on Clippers Defense
On Friday, the Clippers defeated the Pistons 136-125 in a nail-biter game that officially clinched an amazing run of 15 wins in 18 games for the Clippers. However, while everybody else was celebrating the victory, Kawhi Leonard issued a challenge to his teammates. Leonard commented to reporters that “It’s between our ears. Tonight, we were terrible on our defensive game.” Furthermore, Leonard challenged that ” I feel like these last few games have been based on talent, and we need to be focused on execution.” Leonard has long prided himself on being a two-way superstar. He was one of the only top-tier players in the league that was drafted as a defense-first prospect and gained offensive skill, rather than the other way around. It makes sense that he would be unhappy with the Clippers surrendering 125 points to a 6-42 team.
Leonard isn’t the only one unhappy with the Clippers defense. After an intense OT 147-141 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, coach Ty Lue had this to say: “Defensively, we got to get back home, and really start locking up defensively and getting better because we are better than that.” Lue has been preaching about defense since the beginning of the season. Before opening night, he promised to deliver a “top 5 defense” to Clippers fans. Lue personally observed the Doc Rivers-led 2020 Clippers squad collapse in the bubble due to defensive lapses. Understandably, he does not want to repeat that collapse and has continued to challenge his team on defense.
Clippers Defense Problems Causes
In most cases where teams suffer on defense, it usually has to do with their star players/volume players not being great defenders. Luckily for the Clippers, this is not the case for them. Leonard is a DPOY-caliber defender. His main costar, Paul George, is an amazing defender in his own right. Their usual center, Ivica Zubac, is a decent defender down low. Their floor general, James Harden is not the defensive sieve he used to be and has been much more effective than expected on defense. The problem was the Clippers’ defense lies in injuries and the bench, which has been the Clippers’ problem all season.
First off, since Zubac’s injury, his replacements, Daniel Theis and Mason Plumlee, have stepped up to try to fill the offensive void left by Zubac. While they have kind of managed to do that, they have absolutely not managed to fill the defensive void left by Zubac. Both Theis and Plumlee are below-average defenders, which isn’t ideal at Center, the most important defensive position in basketball.
Second off, the deep bench has been a problem in all facets of the game, but especially defense. Bones Hyland has been subpar, to put it lightly, on defense. Westbrook isn’t the defender he used to be in his prime. Finally, the rest of the bench is filled with guys like Kobe Brown, Brandon Boston Jr., and Jordan Miller, who are all not very good defenders.
Clippers Potential Trade Solutions
At the deadline, the goal for the Clippers is to stabilize the defense by acquiring a temporary replacement for Zubac while he’s out with injury and reliable defenders off the bench. Unfortunately, the Clippers have limited assets. They have PJ Tucker, who’s currently doing nothing and may have some value based on his past reputation. Furthermore, the young guys mentioned earlier like Brown and Boston Jr. aren’t crucial to the Clippers and may have some value as prospects. Those are really the only easily tradable assets the Clippers possess.
Some bench players that could be cheaply had are Otto Porter Jr. or Reggie Bullock. Neither are really game-changers, but both could be useful in bolstering the bench defense. Finally, Nick Richards is an interesting player that wouldn’t cost too much to acquire. His contract is fairly cheap and his team, the Hornets, are 100% sellers at the deadline. Again, Richards isn’t really the game-changer type. However, as an off-the-bench and injury replacement for Zubac, he could bolster the LA Clippers’ defense.
No matter what happens, the Clippers remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA. However, they could become even better by shoring up their defensive weaknesses at the deadline. The Clippers have one of the longest title droughts in American sports. Clippers fans are used to the phrase “Maybe next year”. With smart moves at the deadline to bolster defense and continue to lead the league in offense, this might finally be the year for the Clippers.