It's been far from a flawless stretch for the Clippers over the last two weeks. A blowout loss to the Grizzlies, two subpar performances against the Knicks and Warriors and a defensive disaster in New Orleans raised eyebrows. Simply put, they haven't reached their peak potential.
Los Angeles launched itself onto the national stage by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer, but the offseason is in the rearview mirror. We're beyond the halfway point of the regular season. The Clippers sit at 30-13, tied with the Nuggets and Jazz for the second-best record in the Western Conference. Almost all Clippers teams of the past would be ecstatic with that situation.
But this isn't your typical Clippers team. There's a major difference between scrapping for the eighth seed and taking every team's best shot as a true contender.
"We're not in the same boat as we were last year," Clippers guard Landry Shamet said. "Last year we were kind of that underdog or whatever. This year, we understand there is a ton of hype around us and teams are looking at us with a target on us and want to be able to beat us. We know that. We just have to come ready to play every night."
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When asked about his team's mentality, Clippers coach Doc Rivers explained that every group is different year to year.
"Some teams take on the leadership role and say, 'We're just going to run with it out of the gates.' And some teams believe they're going to win, but they're going to build up to that point," Rivers said. "We definitely aren't sneaking up on anyone. So, I guess it is a different mindset. And it's a mindset you'd rather have. So, I'll take it."
Part of the recent malaise can be attributed to health problems. Leonard has missed 10 games, and George has missed 17 total, including the last five with a hamstring injury. Throw in absences from role players like Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and JaMychal Green, and it's easy to see why there has been a lack of consistency.
"When you have a new team with all of these guys, you'd have hoped you had a healthy training camp," Rivers said. "We didn't have that. You'd hope you had a healthy preseason. We didn't have that. And we've not had a healthy season so far. So, we've had a lot of distractions to take us away from continuity.
"But that's fine. I told our guys, 'We still have to keep doing the work. If we have to work harder or work more, that's fine. Just have to accept that. It takes what it takes.' So, you just do it."
Despite the obvious concerns, the Clippers aren't exactly heading to the NBA Draft lottery. They're on a three-game winning streak entering Tuesday night's matchup with the Mavericks, and they've won seven of their last 10 games. They're a top-seven team in offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating.
And perhaps the most important number that any Clipper optimists would throw back at critics: Los Angeles is 14-4 when both George and Leonard are available.
But the Clippers can only play the injury card for so long. They still have the reigning Finals MVP in Leonard and the league's highest-scoring bench unit led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. It's time for the Clippers to get going, especially with the Lakers across the hall sitting at 34-9.
The Clippers need to keep making positive strides if they're interested in chasing down the Lakers in the standings and building some continuity ahead of what should be a difficult postseason run. They are in the midst of a six-game road trip, one that ends with a national TV game against the Lakers on Jan. 28. There won't be any off nights. The tests just keep coming.
They might want to flip the switch before it's too late.