The year of the Clippers? Silence, a plan and fight against history

Los Angeles are making fewer headlines than they did last year, but they have a game plan and better manage breaks. Kawhi, break the Clippers curse.


Clippers stick their heads out. Without anyone noticing or talking about them every day, the Los Angeles team is knowing how to correct the excesses that condemned it last year and has learned to manage certain structural and formal aspects to find a much-needed regularity for the moment that the season lives . And, above all, they are knowing how to keep the forms without monopolizing unnecessary headlines, something motivated by an NBA in which there is much talk about the coronavirus and James Harden. All the sainete around the guard, which has ended in the Nets, has allowed Tyronn Lue's men to focus on their own and forget about everything else. And that everything else, includes a string of protagonists in which the return of Stephen Curry has crept in, the great level of Nikola Jokic or the dominance of the Lakers in the Western Conference, something that benefits an entity that continues to seek his identity and that straightens a squad that still has obvious shortcomings (the lack of a distributor at the helm), but that manages to score victories and focus on their own, forgetting everything else.

The tables have turned slightly in Los Angeles and, of course, throughout the NBA. If last year the Clippers started as favorites after a summer full of surprises in which Kawhi Leonard and Paul George met to conquer a ring that many awarded them ahead of time, now it is the Lakers, the older brother, who has the favorite band. A few months ago that was the other way around, and the earthquake caused by the elimination of the Clippers in the semifinals against the Nuggets (a series in which they were 3-1 up, watch out), led to the dismissal of Doc Rivers and an internal restructuring that is Leading Tyronn Lue, an undervalued technician who acts as an ego manager and who has managed, so far this season, to carry the always difficult character of Kawhi while managing to involve the rest of the dressing room in an idea that is not entirely defined, but that takes shape as the matches progress.

For now, it seems clear that the load management, which was so much debated a year ago, has been abandoned to make way for more rationalization of the minutes and greater control of Kawhi, who seemed to rest when and how he wanted with Doc Rivers. The forward, without much fanfare (at least apparently), is at 25.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, the best mark of his career in this last section, something forced by the absence of a distributor that, surely, Steve Ballmer, that founder of Microsoft and now owner of the franchise, will try to achieve before the playoffs. Rajon Rondo rang out loud, but finally landed in Atlanta, and the problem remains the same as they had a season ago, but is supplemented with a more collaborative game and a stellar version of a Kawhi that, without grabbing headlines (something that he he likes it a lot), he has improved in everything: he shoots above 50% in shots from the field for the second time in his career, with almost 42% in triples (his second best mark ever), and with 90% in shots free, reducing errors and being safer than ever (he barely lost 1.8 balls per game). Kawhi has also recovered his best defensive attitude, the one that won him the Best Defender award in San Antonio, and he strives on both sides of the court (2 steals), without losing poise in either of them.

Paul George is the other great man: 23.9 points with the best percentages in field goals, 3s and free throws, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists, also the top of his career, and sharing the ball with Kawhi in absence of that base profile the Clippers lack. The first great rule of Lue is clear: fewer errors, more distribution and an internal leadership that he shares with his two stars, who fail less and maintain a high level of scoring, being also the leaders of the defense together with Serge Ibaka , a signing that came to replace a Montrezl Harrell who was gimmicky but ineffective and who exploits his virtues in the Lakers, while in the Clippers he revealed his shortcomings, especially in the defensive aspect. Reggie Jackson, a one-dimensional point guard who only knows how to play in one way, has seen his minutes considerably reduced (just 13.5) and it is Beverley who assumes this facet to shore up the defense and give security to a team that plays without a pure playmaker in various moments of the game, in which the stars rise the ball.

The team improves, the project is at stake and ... what about Kawhi?

One thing is clear, the Clippers play better basketball than last year. Regardless of having seven consecutive victories, they have the best offensive rating in the history of the franchise, they are seventh in points per game, fourth in percentage of field shots and first, attention, in percentage of triples and free throws. They also have the third best net rating in the competition and a 13-4 record that they share with the Lakers, that rival they were destined to face last year and are back this season, in which they are looking to the duel becomes, finally, inevitable. In addition, the group chemistry, so resentful a few months ago, seems to have improved, and people like Marcu Morris and Nicolas Batum (yes, you have read that correctly), seem to find their place in a rotation in which Lou Williams, yes, shows a ghostly version if we compare it with its more recent past. His 34 years and his level could make him a piece to exchange and gain a long-awaited base that completes the squad, although we will have to wait to see what movements Ballmer and his horde of executives decide to make.

And then, of course, the project plays it. It is designed to win, not to look to the long term, and that requires immediate results in an NBA that does not wait for anyone. And yes, Paul George has signed a very lucrative renovation at the rate of 4 years and 190 million dollars, so it will take 225 million between now until 2024-25. But Kawhi has a player option for next season that he might not use, thus going out to free agency and re-signing with the Clippers ... or not. The forward has already shown that he does not marry anyone (well the Raptors know) and if he sees that the project does not carburet, he could look for his third ring elsewhere. For now, he seems focused on a season that is going well for the Clippers (they are winning and dodging the coronavirus at the same time) and that is full of promise. With caution, silence and good feelings, its stars motivated and many aspirations that they hope to see fulfilled. A stumble (to put it mildly) like last year is not posable and all that remains to be decided will be done at the end, in those playoffs in which the Clippers will fight their own history, one that spans 50 years without a single final. Conference. A curse that they will try to break this year. With Kawhi at the helm, of course.

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