If the Clippers were experiencing chemistry problems of late, then the story that laid bare the gist of those problems—resentment over preferential treatment for stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard—appears to have succeeded in bringing the team’s disparate locker room together.
There is, apparently, no better way to secure team chemistry than to have your team’s chemistry questioned from the outside.
As Doc Rivers said on Friday night before the Clippers played the Heat, there wasn’t much to the report, from The Athletic, as far as he is concerned. Sure, there are some accommodations made for George and, especially, for Leonard, who has continued to sit out games for “load management” with the Clippers as he did for Toronto last year. But star players have always been treated different in the NBA.
“Like I’ve always said everyone’s not treated the same, they shouldn’t be,” Rivers told reporters, according to the L.A. Times’ Andrew Greif. “This team as far as chemistry has been phenomenal. This has been a joyful team. Other than injury this has been a joy to coach so far.”
Other Clippers stepped in to question the story, too. Sixth man Lou Williams wrote on Twitter:
Patrick Beverley called the story, “Fake News”:
And Patrick Patterson repeated that on Instagram:
What’s Behind Clippers’ Inconsistency?
Still, there’s no question that the Clippers have not consistently looked like championship contenders this season. The team was 31-14 heading into the game in Miami, third in the West, a half-game behind the Jazz and 5.0 games behind the Lakers. L.A. is on pace to win 56 games, which is about where they were projected to be before the season began.
After a 140-114 loss to the Grizzlies on January 4 in which the Clippers were booed, center Montrezl Harrell questioned his team’s focus.
“Us as a team that should wake you up,” Harrell told reporters. “Losing by 20-plus points on your home floor, getting embarrassed, and booed by your home fans, that should wake anybody up.”
According to The Athletic story, citing sources, Rivers, “lit into his team in the pregame meeting and directed his ire at Harrell multiple times in reference to the comments he had made.”
The Clippers, expected to be an excellent defensive team, have been lackadaisical lately. They rank sixth in the NBA at 105.9 points per 100 possessions, but in their last 10 games they’ve been only so-so on the defensive end, with an efficiency rating of 110.7, 14th in the NBA.
Clippers Have Used 20 Starting Lineups
Rivers pointed to injury as the reason the team has disappointed at times. The Clippers have had 20 different starting lineups in 45 games and it’s been hard to establish consistency with that much turnover.
Leonard has missed 11 games as the team has allowed him to be cautious with his groin injury. George has missed 19, most recently fighting a hamstring injury. Beverley has missed nine games and is still coming back from his groin injury. Landry Shamet missed 17 games with an ankle problem.
The Clippers have had the quartet of Beverley, George, Leonard and center Ivica Zubac—the fifth starter is a little flexible—available in the first five only 15 times this year. They’re 11-4 in those games. That’s a 60-win pace.
Also when Leonard plays, the Clippers are 26-8. They’re only 5-6 without him. Maybe there’s something to Rivers’ assertion that injuries are at the root of L.A.’s inconsistency.
For a team that underwent as much of a roster shake-up as the Clippers in the offseason, not having the core group together for an extended period only naturally damages team chemistry. Rivers’ teams traditionally don’t practice much and that’s been the case in L.A.
According to Rivers and several players, then, it may be true that the chemistry might not be ideal with the Clippers now, but that’s just part of the team’s process of growing together after an active offseason.