The Los Angeles Clippers are on a six-game losing streak, losing all five games with James Harden on the roster. This losing streak is a cause for concern for the Clippers, as last season, the Western Conference playoff seeding came down to the final regular-season games. The Clippers have struggled with many aspects of their game since the trade for Harden, but there are three main reasons for their struggles.
An abundance of similar guards
While the Clippers have one of the best backcourts in the league in terms of depth, the four main guards in their rotation all play similarly. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Norman Powell, and Bones Hyland are all great scoring guards, but they are all ball-dominant. While these guards can help the offense at times, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard should be the biggest pieces of the Los Angeles offense. Since Harden joined the team, George, Leonard, and Westbrook have been the most frequent shot-takers (17, 15.4, and 13.4 FGA per game), while Harden’s shot attempts are significantly lower. Harden could be trying to take on a facilitator role in the offense, however, Tyronn Lue has expressed that he would prefer Harden to be more aggressive offensively. If Westbrook, Powell, and Hyland take facilitating roles, the offense could play significantly better with a three-headed monster of Harden, George, and Leonard.
Lack of forward depth
Los Angeles traded away Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris Sr. to acquire Harden. While these players may seem insignificant in comparison to Harden, they have been missed by the Clippers. Without these forwards, Los Angeles has relied on Leonard, George, Terance Mann, and P.J. Tucker to guard other teams' forwards. While Leonard and George have been elite defenders for their careers, giving them the toughest assignments every night hasn’t worked. Defensive specialists like Batum have helped the Clippers in recent years, and his absence has hindered this year’s defense. While their defense has struggled, Los Angeles also struggles offensively without George or Leonard on the court. The Clippers have only had Tucker and Mann as rotational forwards since the trade. Neither of these are scoring threats, making it easier for defenses to focus on Harden and Westbrook. There might not be a solution for this problem soon, but look for Los Angeles to address this lack of depth at the trade deadline.
The Clippers only have two centers on their roster: Ivica Zubac and Mason Plumlee. While Zubac is a lower-tiered starting center, Plumlee is one of the best backup bigs, providing a solid duo. However, with Plumlee’s recent left MCL sprain, Los Angeles only has one center on the roster. This has forced the Clippers to use Tucker and Moussa Diabate at center for a large portion of games. This lack of big-man depth will hurt Los Angeles, especially against teams with either good centers or players that get to the rim at ease. Like the lack of forward depth, the Clippers probably won’t be able to address this issue until the trade deadline.
Los Angeles looks to end their losing streak Thursday against the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have been one of the hottest teams in basketball, winning six straight games, making this a battle of the hot and cold.