It appears Jamal Crawford could return to the Clippers’ lineup tonight against Staples Center co-occupants the Los Angeles Lakers.
The two-time Sixth Man of the Year has sat out the last 17 games with a calf injury, and surprisingly enough, the Clippers have barely missed a beat without him, going 12-5 and winning 10 of their last 11 in his absence. They’ve also won a franchise-best 25 road games so far this season.
However, his 16.4 points per game make him the team’s third leading scorer, and the Clippers would be loathe to make a deep post-season run without Crawford to buttress their offense off the bench. As it stands, their second unit without him is a motley crew comprised of Doc Rivers’ retreads from his previous coaching stops who have proved wholly ineffectual thus far.
According to HoopsStats.com, the Clippers currently rank 22nd in bench scoring this season at 30.7 ppg. Jedd Thayer of isportsweb.com also pointed out that, prior to his injury, Crawford was responsible for 38 percent of those points. It bears mentioning, however, that lumping Crawford in with the bench is somewhat disingenuous when you consider the fact that he mostly plays with the starters. Even after missing 17 games, the Clippers’ second and third most used lineups this season simply substitute Crawford for either Matt Barnes or J.J. Redick, per NBA.com.
To make matters worse, Crawford isn’t going to be much help on the other end of the floor. The Clippers’ bench has been a positively atrocious minus-10.1 so far this season, good for 29th in the NBA. It shouldn’t be that surprising when you consider that their bench consists of people like Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes, Austin Rivers, et al. That’s a riddle they’ll have to solve, or more likely, one that’ll get solved for them once the post season starts.
Despite all these deficiencies, the Clippers are currently in a four-way free-for-all for the second seed in the always brutal Western Conference, not to mention the fact that Chris Paul is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. They also have the added motivation of being summarily dismissed as title contenders and Paul, in particular, being flagrantly omitted from the MVP discussion.
Still, the onus is on them to silence the critics and, at the very least, make a run to the Western Conference Finals, a feat they’ve never accomplished since Paul’s arrival in 2011. The clock is ticking on Lob City, and they certainly don’t stand much of a chance in the playoffs without a healthy Crawford to add scoring and clutch shooting to the mix, so at the very least, it’s good news that Crawford has a handful of games to warm up before the NBA’s second season begins.