The road trip is over.
After a four-game swing through the Midwest and Atlantic coast, the Clippers are back in Los Angeles for their first home game in more than a week Monday night against the New Orleans Hornets.
The Clippers (8-5) have suffered three losses in a row since opening the trip with a 92-87 win in San Antonio. On Saturday night Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said he hoped returning home would give the team a needed jolt.
“We’re not as consistent as we need to be in many areas of the game right now,” Del Negro told reporters after the Clippers fell 104-93 to Atlanta. “We’ve got to get back home, get our feet under us, and get back playing in front of our fans and get some confidence back.”
When the Clippers last played in Los Angeles, their confidence was arguably never higher. They were coming off wins over four playoff teams from last season and owned a point differential of better than +9. That changed in a hurry, though, after three straight losses.
“It’s frustrating,” Matt Barnes said. “We started off the trip great and to lose three games in a row is very unlike this team.”
Blake Griffin called their road setbacks merely a “minor bump in the road,” but agreed with his coach that it will be nice to “get home, be in a familiar environment, go back to the drawing board, have some practices and get a few wins under our belt.”
The Hornets (3-9) limp into Staples Center having lost seven in a row, including two out of the last three in overtime.
Former Clipper Eric Gordon is out indefinitely with a knee injury and Olympic gold medalist and rookie star Anthony Davis has missed the four previous games due to a stress reaction in his ankle. Davis is expected to be out until early December, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.
If Davis does indeed sit out it will be the second year in a row, the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft did not face the Clippers when their respective teams played. Last season, Kyrie Irving sat out the Clippers’ only game against the Cavaliers with a concussion.
LAST TIME OUT
Hawks 104, Clippers 93: The Clippers could not avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season after Atlanta put up two 30-plus point quarters and built a lead as large as 27 in the second half. A late rally pulled the Clippers to within 10, but 3-pointers from Kyle Korver and Josh Smith on back-to-back possessions put the game out of reach.
“I thought our starters began the game well, but then [the Hawks] made a run in the second quarter, and that changed the tone of the game from there,” Del Negro said. “We didn’t play well in the second half [in Brooklyn or Atlanta]. I expect our guys to fight back."
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 22 points (11 in the first quarter), 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Chris Paul added 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds and seven steals.
Nuggets 102, Hornets 84: Denver pieced together a 17-5 run out of halftime to take an 18-point lead and never relinquished it, sending the visiting Hornets to their seventh straight loss. Andre Iguodala led all scorers with 23 points and Kennth Faried had a double-double for the Nuggets, while undrafted rookie Brian Roberts led New Orleans with a career-high 17 points off the bench. The Hornets were held to 38.8% shooting and were outscored 57-38 in the second and third quarters combined.
Caron Butler vs. Al-Farouq Aminu. While Aminu only spent his rookie season in Los Angeles, he was certainly considered the small forward of the future at one point. Butler, on the other hand, signed with the Clippers shortly after the lockout and was immediately deemed the small forward of the present. The two crossed paths in L.A. for roughly six days before Aminu was shipped to New Orleans along with Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a first round draft pick that turned out to be Austin Rivers (11th overall).
Butler comes into Monday’s matchup struggling from the field. He is nursing a strained right shoulder that forced him out of last week’s win over San Antonio 9 minutes into the first quarter and kept him out of the following game in Oklahoma City. In his two games since returning to the lineup Butler is shooting 4-for-15 and is 1-for-6 from 3-point range. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Clippers’ offensive production has also slowed during the stretch. The team is 4-2 in games Butler scores at least 10 points.
Meanwhile, Aminu is quietly putting together a solid opening month. He's third on the Hornets in rebounding and scoring 11.5 points per game. Aminu is also fifth in the NBA with 23 dunks.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
The Clippers bench. The effectiveness of the bench has been stunted in the last two games as opponents have adjusted defensively to combat Jamal Crawford’s prowess as a scorer. Crawford had fewer than 20 points in three of the Clippers’ four road games after running off a steak of six in his first nine. Coming back to Los Angeles may be the best, or most immediate, solution for the bench as a whole. They did their best work in Staples Center, averaging 41.9 points per game in seven home games and one road game against the Lakers.
On Monday, the five-man reserve unit may be able to take advantage of a depleted Hornets roster. In the last six games, with Davis limited and leading scorer Ryan Anderson thrust into the starting lineup, New Orleans has averaged just over 30 points per game from a bench group that includes two rookies (Brian Roberts and Darius Miller) and one second-year player (Lance Thomas). It is quite a change from a group that outscored seven of its first 10 opponents on the year.
Fast-break points. Prior to their road trip, the Clippers led the league in fast-break points (19 per game). The transition game, made more dangerous by the number of steals the Clippers were getting, became integral factor in the team's offensive success in the first nine games of the year. Flash forward a week, and they are scoring six fewer points on the break over the last four games.
The Clippers are shooting 8% worse during their three-game losing streak than they did in the previous six games (all wins). Coincidentally, opponents are shooting 8% better over the same stretch... Rookie guard Austin Rivers was born in Santa Monica, CA in 1992 about a month before his father, Doc Rivers, was traded from the Clippers to the Knicks… The Hornets have scored fewer than 90 points five times, including a 62-point outing Nov. 7 against Philadelphia… Point guard Greivis Vasquez is fourth in the NBA in assists per game with an 8.5 average.