The Clippers’ kryptonite

Since the turn of the new year, the Clippers have gone 22-10 and are maintaining their status as title contenders. The win total is encouraging, but the alarming part about their ten losses is they have all come at the hands of teams with the presence of elite big men.

They have lost to the Kings, the Pelicans, the Cavaliers, the Thunder, the Bucks (twice), the Lakers (twice), and the Timberwolves (twice). Aside from Oklahoma City, which has up-and-coming 7’1″ Chet Holmgren, every roster contains one or two All-Star caliber power forwards or centers.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Norman Powell for the jumper against the Chicago Bulls on March 9, 2024. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“Rebounding the basketball,” Tyronn Lue mentioned as one of the reasons they blew a 21-point lead to the Lakers in late February. “When we do get stops, we have to secure the ball.”

The Clippers equaled the Lakers’ total in the first of the two losses, and they were able to outrebound the Bucks on Sunday, but they have been outdone in that category by a significant margin in all the other matchups.

Los Angeles allowed an opposing player to grab double-digit rebounds in nine of the games, the one outliner being the formerly mentioned most recent loss to Milwaukee. To make matters worse, four of them saw a player get at least 15 boards. Rudy Gobert had 18, Jarrett Allen got 17, Bobby Portis came down with 16, and Domantas Sabonis ended up with 15.

“Offensive rebounding-wise, we got to hit bodies first. Teams are crashing three, four guys,” said Lue after the loss to the Kings. “When our bigs are going to block shots, we have to make sure we are cracking back and being physical and keeping their bigs off the glass.”

Ivica Zubac has held up his end of the bargain, averaging just over ten rebounds per game in these matchups. The problem is that most of these teams have more than one player capable of pulling down a high number of boards on any given night.

Amir Coffey (7) and Norman Powell (24) of the Los Angeles Clippers apply the defense on Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan (11) during an NBA game played at Crypto.com Arena on March 9, 2024. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Zubac can only neutralize one at a time, and no one else on the Clippers has that ability. Their second-leading rebounder is Kawhi Leonard, who averages 6.2 rebounds a game.

“Teams and coaches are talking about extra possessions, and that is one of the biggest trends outside of three-point shooting now, the crashing of the guards and getting extra possessions. So, we just got to make sure that when a shot goes up, we are putting bodies on guys and paying attention to detail,” said Lue.

With Zubac being the only guy the Clippers can rely on nightly to pull down double-digit boards, the other players on the court need to make a concerted effort to group-rebound. One guy trying to step up will not get the job done against bigger teams.

They need to focus as a unit on that part of the game if they come up against a team like Minnesota in the playoffs, which has two seven-footers in Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. Otherwise, they will be packing up their lockers earlier than anticipated.

At 38 years old, P.J. Tucker is having by far the worst statistical season of his career, but the long-time NBA vet is someone who can bring some intensity to that part of the game, if even for only a few minutes at a time.

Los Angeles Clippers guard/forward Paul George (13) tries to fend off the defense of his counterpart-Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dusonmu (12) during a game played at Crypto.com Arena on March 9, 2024. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Tucker got the start for Los Angeles against the Bucks with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sitting out, and his presence had something to do with why they won the rebound battle. He had six in limited minutes, and even though he is a liability on the offensive side of the ball this year, he can still bring the muscle.

“I thought he was physical. I thought he brought some toughness. He had four offensive rebounds. He took open shots, and it is hard to make shots when you haven’t played in a while to be in a rhythm,” said Lue.

Tucker is not the answer, but his style of play is. Inserting him into the lineup for even a couple of possessions a night might not be a bad idea. He has been a DNP for much of the season and could help to set the tone.

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