The Clippers have lost some of their mojo, most of it taken away when Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending left Achilles’ tendon injury.
The lost momentum has left the Clippers in a precarious state, and it has come at a time when they have set out on a six-game, nine-day trip.
This trip that starts in Sacramento Thursday night and winds its way through Phoenix, Houston, Minnesota, New Jersey and San Antonio could be the impetus for the Clippers to stand pat or make a move before the March 15 trade deadline.
As Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said after practice Wednesday, there are no “gimme” games on the trip.
“A couple of games here and there means a lot,” Del Negro said. “We have to go and handle the adversity every day, be ready to play and give ourselves an opportunity to win games, especially on this long road trip.”
The Clippers are 5-5 since Billups went down Feb. 6 at Orlando; they were 15-7 with him in the starting lineup.
In many ways, it’s difficult to quantify all Billups brought to the Clippers.
It was more than his scoring, leadership, ability to make big shots, defense and guidance.
Neil Olshey, the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations, said the team lost “the gravitas Chauncey brings.”
Olshey will be diligent leading up to the trading deadline, knowing it’s difficult to replace Billups.
He’ll talk to other general managers and then decide if it’s best for the Clippers to make a trade or go with the players they have.
“The big thing for us is going to be, if we find a guy that we think is a long-term solution to any of our holes, we’ll use any of our assets we have and any vehicles we have to accomplish it,” Olshey said. “But if it’s just adding a piece to add someone that takes away our long-term flexibility, we’re not going to do it.
“We hit lightning in a bottle early. It was great. We’ve hit a little bit of an ebb right now, but we’ll get it back. I just think that the improvement is really going to come from the inside out this time.”
Olshey said the Clippers traded three players and a trade pick to acquire Chris Paul from New Orleans, leaving L.A. with few “assets.”
They still have two trade exceptions to use, can sign a free agent to the veteran’s minimum or make a trade.
“We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to look to improve,” Olshey said. “I think we may have some opportunities. But the reality is, with the abbreviated season, teams aren’t as anxious to give up assets as they were.”
As much as the Clippers have improved and have given their fans hope, Olshey said this was and is going to be a process.
He said the team will continue to build — for right now and the future.
“I’m glad that this organization has now reached a point where we are about heightened expectations and people expect us to fulfill them,” Olshey said. “We’re going to do everything we can to do it between now and March 15. But if it’s not by March 15, this is another step in our journey towards winning a championship.”
Meanwhile, the Clippers will look to improve upon their 8-7 road record.
Three of the teams they face — Houston, Minnesota and San Antonio — have .500 records or better. The Timberwolves and Spurs have each defeated the Clippers twice already this season.
The Clippers went 4-2 on their last trip, something that gives them confidence.
“We know that we have to win games on the road,” DeAndre Jordan said. “We know it’s really us against everybody else. If we win those games on the road, we can definitely win at home and protect our home court.”