At this moment, the Los Angeles Clippers are not the team most figured they would be this season.
Their 105-89 loss to a Chicago Bulls team missing two of its better players Monday night at Staples Center was yet another reminder that the Clippers haven’t lived up to the preseason hype.
They are a team languishing just one game above the .500 mark, at 5-4.
They are a team that remains inconsistent, winning a game, losing a game, winning, losing, winning and now losing again.
The Clippers didn’t leave California during their first nine games, going no farther than Oakland to play Golden State.
Now the Clippers depart Tuesday for a seven-game trip that starts with back-to-back games in Orlando on Wednesday and in Miami on Thursday.
And Coach Doc Rivers and his players leave knowing the team is not playing good basketball.
“We’ve got to be better. There’s no secret,” said Chris Paul, who had 12 points and seven assists. “I didn’t even realize that we started 4-3 last year. Doc told us that last game. We’ve got to find it. We’ve got to play the right way. Hopefully this road trip will help us.”
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose missed his second consecutive game with a strained left hamstring, and forward Pau Gasol, returning to Staples Center for the first time since departing the Lakers as a free agent last summer, didn’t play because of a strained left calf.
Still, the Bulls had six players score in double figures, with Jimmy Butler totaling 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds, Taj Gibson collecting 20 points, five rebounds and six assists and Joakim Noah finishing with 11 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.
They were a big reason why the Bulls turned a 14-point deficit in the second quarter into an 19-point lead in the fourth.
It was a huge turnaround, with the Bulls scoring 51 points and the Clippers scoring 18 over a stretch of just under 17 minutes.
“I don’t remember a big turn like that in a while since I’ve been in the league,” Paul said.
The Clippers overwhelmed the depleted Bulls in the second quarter, opening a 46-32 lead behind the play of reserves Jamal Crawford and Spencer Hawes.
They combined for 20 first-half points, doing most of their damage in the second period, the Clippers looking strong as a result.
Crawford had 12 first-half points and four assists, one to Hawes for a three-pointer in the second quarter.
Hawes had eight points in the first half and four rebounds.
But the Bulls locked in on defense as the second quarter reached its latter stages, closing to within 50-48 at the half.
The Bulls closed the second quarter in a good way. The Clippers did not.
After the Clippers got a defensive stop late in the quarter, Crawford tried to dribble out of traffic.
But he had the ball stripped by Gibson, who passed to Butler.
Butler drilled a 17-foot jumper while being fouled by Crawford.
After Butler made the free throw with two-tenths of a second left in the first half, the Clippers’ lead had been sliced to two points.
Then the bottom fell out for the Clippers. By the end of the third quarter, they were down by 15 points.
They went down by 17 at start of the fourth on a jumper by Noah.
After a bad turnover by Matt Barnes, who threw the ball into the stands, Nikola Mirotic scored for an 83-64 Bulls lead.
The many Bulls fans in attendance began to cheer even louder for their team, chanting, “Let’s Go Bulls. Let’s Go Bulls.”
The many Clippers fans stayed silent, perhaps having a hard time believing what they were seeing.
Rivers, though, continues to see good things ahead for his team.
“I feel good about my team,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a good team.”