Just about everything that could possibly have gone wrong for the Los Angeles Clippers since the All-Star break has gone wrong. After signing Russell Westbrook following a buyout with the Utah Jazz, the Clippers have now lost four consecutive games. With Kawhi Leonard sitting out the second night of a back-to-back Friday, that streak may quickly become five, and after a very encouraging stretch of basketball before the break, the Clippers have now fallen into the Western Conference play-in picture.
Yet Clippers coach Ty Lue doesn't believe the team needs wholesale changes. He implored his team to play tougher after an embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors Thursday. "For us, we just got to stay the course, got to be mentally tough, mentally strong, can't give in, and just got to be tougher," Lue said. "That's the bottom line. When stuff doesn't go your way, it shows you what you're made of. I'm confident that we have a good team and they have to be the same way. They've got to feel the same confidence.
"I don't care about missed shots, it's going to happen. You're going to turn the ball over some, but you can't give in and my thing is just having that toughness and that mindset that, OK, things are not going well, then let's do something about it."
Toughness is unquantifiable. It's a trait coaches frequently call for when their teams struggle because it suggests that the team's problems are solvable through effort alone. It's not clear that that is the case for the Clippers. Though their roster is among the NBA's most talented, it is also flawed in a few key ways that have proven especially problematic since the Westbrook addition.
You can't hope to win games turning the ball over 19.8 times, which the Clippers have averaged since the break. You can't hope to compete for a championship with the No. 23 defense in the NBA, which is where the Clippers have ranked since Jan. 1. You can't hope to effectively space the floor when the best defender of his generation is openly ignoring your point guard.
Dray guarding Russ 👀 pic.twitter.com/mpeKmmzeGl— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 3, 2023
These aren't problems solvable through toughness. They're structural flaws that need to be addressed over time through sustained schematic adjustment and lineup decisions. That just doesn't make for as clean a motivator during a losing streak. No matter how tough the Clippers play, they aren't winning anything so long as they can't defend, can't hold the ball and can't space the floor.