There is some frontcourt help on the horizon, though nothing close to what the Lakers got with Bynum back. Reggie Evans is not yet cleared to play due to a sprained right foot, but he has begun practicing with the team. He is coming off a shortened but fantastic season with Toronto –his 2011 rate of 11.5 boards per game seemed to double anyone else on the team, and his rebound rate was best in the league – and while he’s only 6-8, he plays tall. The Clippers need energy on defense, and they need rebounds, and Evans will provide both.
However, even with Evans back, the Clippers will still have maybe the worst perimeter defense this side of the Canadian border. For all the wonder and alley-oops of Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, the prospect of Billups, Mo Williams and/or Caron Butler guarding someone like, say, Bryant, Kevin Durant or J.J. Barea is enough to turn off the television. Unfortunately, the Clippers’ meager bench – arguably thinner than the Lakers – means it’s either them or Randy Foye. While it’s a sure bet Williams gets moved for a defender, the March 15 deadline date is nearly 40 games away. Free agents and players on the block still prefer the Lakers to the Clippers, and if a trade doesn’t happen until the last minute, it may not be enough to save the Clippers’ season.
Of course, a week’s worth of games is too small a sample from which to draw any reasonable basketball conclusions, but every game gives a better picture, and the Clippers’ prognosis is more clear now than it was Sunday. Though the defense is falling off a cliff, the club is improving, and further games against lesser squads should help it move somewhere near the first tier of the Western Conference, and possibly ahead of the Lakers (That said, their next four games come against Milwaukee, Portland, Miami and the Lakers – things might get worse before they get better.). A reasonable scenario has the Clippers finishing just ahead of the Lakers – if they don’t beat L.A. on Jan. 14, they might not anyways.
If the Clippers don’t improve like many of us thought they would at the beginning of the season – if they miss the playoffs, if they have a losing record, heck, if they end up somewhere behind the Lakers – most will label it a disappointment, another wasted Clippers season, another shaky roster, another failure. There’s a good chance that happens if the defense isn’t fixed. But unlike earlier Clippers squads, this year’s team is worth watching, and remains so. The team, already the most talented squad in Clipper history, needs just 40 wins to post their best winning percentage in franchise history. Whether that talent translates into May and June basketball is still up in the air, but it has begun to gel, and there’s a good shot it gets there. They’re an entertaining ticket in January, with a chance to be crucial in May.
Where are the Clippers at right now? How much better can they get?
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