Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) At 26-12, Clippers still trying to mold championship identity. Doc Rivers was blunt. Nearly halfway into the season, does the Clippers’ coach know what his team’s identity is?
“No. And that’s a concern,” Rivers said Saturday after a frustrating blowout loss at home to Memphis.
We know is the Clippers are good — 26-12, on pace for 56 wins and home court in the first round — with a couple of victories against the measuring stick team in the West, the Lakers.
What we don’t know, what we haven’t seen consistently, is a team identity. That leads to losses to Memphis or giving up 132 points Sunday to the Knicks (a game the Clippers won by scoring 135, led by Harrell’s 34 off the bench). Those kinds of games should be wakeup calls.
“We’ve had a lot of wake up calls,” Kawhi Leonard said after the Memphis loss. “I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”
“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Harrell said more bluntly in a frustrated rant after the Memphis loss. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”
When the Clippers are at their best they are a gritty, defense-first team that can shoot the three and has ball handlers in Leonard and Paul George who can create shots and get to their spots on the floor in crunch time. At their heart, this is a lunchpail squad that wants to outwork opponents — even their stars are not anointed top picks, they didn’t go to elite college programs (George at Fresno State, Leonard at San Diego State), but they outworked everyone to maximize their talent and get where they are
Patrick Beverley — the ultimate lunchpail guy and the emotional heart-and-soul of the Clippers — said in no uncertain terms Sunday the Clippers know who they are, they just haven’t put it together consistently.
Patrick Beverley on when the Clippers will know who they are – "I think we wake up every day knowing exactly who the f**k we are every night. It's just for us to go out there and put it together collectively as a unit. That takes time. But we will be better." pic.twitter.com/QcIdev5lRO
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) January 6, 2020
Injuries and keeping players healthy is a part of that — Doc Rivers has had a fully healthy core of his roster for exactly one game this season. Paul George and Leonard have played fewer than 500 minutes together (461) across 18 games, although the Clippers have a +10.7 rating in those minutes. (For comparison LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played 817 minutes together this season, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray at are at 977 minutes together in Denver).
“It’s been tough, I won’t deny that. It’s been tougher than I thought it would be because of (the injuries)…” Rivers said.
“The continuity that we need to be a champion, to me, it’s hard to work on that or even have, because you don’t have time. I’m not worried about it yet, but it’s actually on my mind.”
There is time, 46 games to be exact. As an organization, the Clippers have played the long game this season, being willing to sacrifice wins now to have Leonard and the rest of the squad rested and healthy when the games really matter in April. The focus is the ultimate prize, one that is earned in May and June.
But that prize requires sweat equity be put in on dull January days, and Rivers knows it. Good habits need to be built, chemistry worked on. The little things come together in those games, not by Rivers snapping fingers in May. That’s where the Clippers are right now, still trying to put things together. They need to put in the work now to mold that championship identity. They have time, but unlike that team down the hall, the Clippers are not far down that road yet.
2) Hassan Whiteside returns to Miami, gets booed, Heat shrug and pick up win. It seemed a bit of an overreaction from Miami fans, but they booed Hassan Whiteside upon his return to Miami Sunday. Booed him when he was introduced and when he touched the ball most of the game. Whiteside may not have lived up to the hype (or his contract) in Miami, but he was himself. He put up numbers — 14.1 points and 11.9 rebounds a game average in his five seasons — but they were mostly empty calorie numbers.
The “we got shooters” chant by Heat fans in the second half was clever. (When Whiteside was traded to Portland over the summer, he posted a video reaction on social media where he praised Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum saying, “We got shooters,” Heat fans didn’t forget.) This season, Miami has plenty of shooters.
Jimmy Butler was out on Sunday, but Miami still had enough shooters to get the win. The Heat got 29 points and 13 assists from Goran Dragic, while Bam Adebayo added 20 points and eight rebounds. Derrick Jones Jr. chipped in 19.
Part of Miami’s leap forward this season has been their play in the paint, with Adebayo and Meyers Leonard giving the Heat quality minutes and points. The fans may have had animosity toward Whiteside, the team has shrugged it off and moved on.
3) The Lakers blocked 20 shots in a win against Detroit Sunday. The Lakers are a long team up front. The Detroit Pistons learned that the hard way Sunday.
Anthony Davis led the way with eight blocked shots, and as a team the Lakers rejected 20 Pistons’ shots on their way to a 106-99 win.
Davis had eight blocks, JaVale McGee six, and Dwight Howard five (four of those came in the fourth quarter). Laker guard Avery Bradley had the other block. Los Angeles had given up 60 points in the paint in their last game (against New Orleans) and Davis said the focus on protecting the paint was a reaction to that. Follow @basketballtalk