Clipper update. The Clippers haven't lost since a surprising 105-98 home defeat to the Hornets on November 26, a span of eight games in which they've scored 100 games seven times and conceded more than 100 points just once. It's exactly what Vinny Del Negro's troops needed after a four game losing streak dropped them to a fairly pedestrian 8-6, and has returned them to the top spot in the Pacific Division, 1.5 games ahead of the Warriors. Their 16-6 mark is the best start in franchise history, while a win tonight would set a new team record for consecutive. Add to that the continued struggles of the Lakers, and things are going pretty damn well in Clipperland.
L.A.'s recipe has been founded on balance: they rank just ahead of the Bucks in defensive efficiency (8th) but also boast the league's fourth-most efficient offense. From a four-factor perspective they're offensively balanced as well: they rank no worst than 12th in any of the four offensive categories (eFG% 5th, turnover percentage 9th, OReb% 10th, free throw rate 12th). There's less balance defensively, leading the league in forcing turnovers (Chris Paul's league-leading 2.6 steals help) and ranking eighth in eFG% allowed, but lagging near the bottom of the league in defensive rebounding (28th) and free throw rate allowed (26th). In other words, the Bucks should be able to get second chances, which is good because the Clippers tend to force plenty of misses.
Blake and CP3. While their individual numbers are down somewhat through 22 games, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still the stars around which the L.A. solar system revolves. Some of their statistical dip can be attributed to minutes: Both are down to 33 mpg from 36 last year, which partly explains why Griffin is putting up "just" 18.2 ppg and 8.9 rpg after dropping 20.7 and 10.9 last season. Interestingly, it's the second straight year Griffin has seen those two numbers drop after bursting onto the scene with 22.5/12.1 as a rookie in 10/11. However, Griffin's efficiency numbers are also down somewhat, and the offensive story owes largely to his shot distribution: while he's shooting an excellent (and career-high) 43% on long twos, his attempts at the rim are down to 4.9 fga/game after averaging 7.2 shots at the cup over the prior two seasons.
Meanwhile, Paul is scoring less (16.3 ppg vs. 19.8 last season), but his assist rate is right in line with his career averages and his true shooting numbers are the second best of his career (59.0%) despite hitting just 32.8% of his three point attempts, his worst since his rookie season in 05/06. In other news, Chris Paul is amazing.
Bench boost. Depth was among the Clippers' Achilles' heels a year ago, and on paper the Clips looked much improved coming into the season: Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, and Matt Barnes were added to the forward rotation, Jamal Crawford was signed to inject some scoring life to the backcourt and Chauncey Billups was coming back from the torn Achilles that wrecked his 11/12 season. But with Billups (left foot) playing in just three games and Hill (knee bruise) yet to play a minute, it's been Crawford (17.1 ppg, career-high 57.8% true shooting) and third-year guard Eric Bledsoe (24.4 PER) who have been the stories so far, with Odom struggling mightily for the second straight season (8.4 PER, 34.6% PER).
Injured Bucks. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Bucks' current four game streak is who hasn't been playing. Key bench reserves Beno Udrih (ankle) and Mike Dunleavy (knee) have been out, while Tobias Harris is expected to be on the shelf a week after suffering an elbow laceration on Wednesday. Ekpe Udoh (both wrists) and Doron Lamb (illness) both played last night after some doubts about their ability to participate, while Larry Sanders got back to his double-double ways after dealing with his own illness earlier in the week.