Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Grantland columnist Bill Simmons had this to say about the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night on NBA Countdown: "They're built like a fancy race car and only Chris Paul knows how to drive it."
After missing nine games in a row with what has to be the most severe knee bruise in NBA history (Seriously, the guy missed three weeks because of a bruise?), Paul was back at the wheel Friday night in Miami.
What ensued was something that resembled a 15-car pileup.
After beating the Heat handily in a meeting between these teams earlier in the season, Miami massacred the Clippers Friday night at American Airlines Arena, winning by a final tally of 111-89. By doing so, the Heat handed L.A. its eighth loss in its last 11 games.
The margin of victory could have been even steeper if Miami had kept its foot on the gas instead of resting its starters in the fourth quarter.
Chris Bosh's absence (flu) allowed center DeAndre Jordan to have his way with the Heat in the low post (17 points, six boards), but other than that, nothing went right for the Clippers on Friday.
Paul looked shaky in his 20 minutes of action (just three points on 1-of-5 shooting). Jamal Crawford (6-of-15) heaved up more bricks than Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone movies. Even recovering dunkaholic Blake Griffin couldn't put out the flames (13 points, five rebounds in 24 minutes).
Friday may have been the ugliest of the Clippers' recent losses (though last week's 25-point defeat against Toronto would have to be a close second), but L.A. has really been sputtering off course for the better part of a month now.
During the team's recent 3-8 stretch, they've been outscored by their opponents 1,079 to 1,017.
It's like the Clippers' Porsche broke down and they've been forced to drive around in Mom's old mini-van.
And it's not like the Clippers have been facing ringers like the Heat every night. Only four of the team's losses over that span have come against teams with winning records.
One of those opponents was the Rajon Rondo-less Boston Celtics, who are just three games over .500. Overall, the Clippers' last ten opponents have combined for a .473 winning percentage.
Paul's knee woes forced coach Vinny Del Negro to promote Eric Bledsoe to the starting point guard position, which many thought would actually help the Clippers. Bledsoe, a participant in next weekend's All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, is 195 pounds of pure talent, an athletic freak who can drive at will while still providing stellar defense on the other end of the floor.
Bledsoe ended up being a disappointment, producing just 14 ppg and 5.8 apg on 40 percent shooting during his nine-game tenure as starting point guard.
Certainly, Paul's injury set the team back a bit, but the floor general didn't seem to make much of a difference on Friday. Yes, they were playing the Heat, but it's not going to get a whole lot easier for the struggling Clippers, who now have to face four teams with winning records over their next six games.
The return of Chauncey Billups (7.3 ppg) and Jamal Crawford (16.8 ppg) to the lineup on Friday would seem to be a good thing, but in reality, having both players healthy has now created a major logjam at the guard positions. Finding enough playing time for Paul, Bledsoe (9.7 ppg), Crawford, Billups and Willie Green (6.1 ppg) won't be an easy task for Del Negro. Finding chemistry between these five will also be challenging.
We've let it slide for a while, but I think it's time to finally acknowledge that Griffin is having his worst statistical season as a professional. His rebounding and scoring numbers, though still respectable by most standards (18.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg), are both career-lows. Caron Butler (7.5 ppg on 6-of-18 shooting in his last two games) is also performing at a level far below what he is capable of.
Maybe part of the problem has been all the away games the Clippers have been forced to play recently (nine out of their last 11 have been outside of Los Angeles). With the Staples Center hosting the Grammys this weekend, the Lakers and Clippers have both had to embark on long road trips over the last week.
Los Angeles has been a completely different team away from home this season. The Clippers are averaging 96.3 ppg in 27 away games this season compared to 103.4 ppg when they've been at the Staples Center.
The Clippers, who have played more games than any team in the NBA up to this point (52), will get a chance to catch their breath soon with the All-Star break only a week away.
It's possible all this team needs is a tuneup. But that doesn't make Friday's loss sting any less.
We'll see how the Clippers respond Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
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