The Los Angeles Clippers were the NBA's hottest team entering the All-Star break, but they've cratered coming out of it. Tyronn Lue's ball club entered the break with a 36-17 record in 53 games, which was tied for the fourth best record in the league. What's followed since then has been a collective struggle.

In 15 games after the break, the Clippers have a record of just 7-8 with a net rating of -2.1 (it was +5.4 in games prior to the break), including a number of concerning losses for a team that's expected to contend for a championship in a couple weeks.

Every step forward, such as a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, immediately ended up taking two or three steps back with losses against an Atlanta Hawks team without Trae Young, a Milwaukee Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns in a game the Clippers looked like they quit once Kawhi Leonard left due to injury.

Tyronn Lue not happy with Clippers mental toughness

Lue is normally even-keeled with a positive mindset and a bigger picture in mind beyond wins and losses. His postgame press conferences over the last week, however, have seen him be more critical than he's ever been of this iteration of the Clippers.

“When you don’t execute what you’re supposed to execute, then anybody can be beat in this league,” Tyronn Lue told ClutchPoints after LA's loss to Atlanta. “The Hawks, they have good players, you got a great coach in Quin [Snyder], and they’re going to play hard. They’re going to compete. And so if you don’t take care of the things you’re supposed to take care of on a nightly basis, anybody can be beat in this league. I don’t care who you play.

“We talked about it the other day when we said this is a bad loss. All of them are losses count no matter what. So it’s not a bad loss regardless of who you’re playing or what team. They’re all professionals and they all play. And so if you don’t play hard and compete and you don’t take care of the things you need to take care of on a nightly basis, you could lose any given night. And so tonight was one of those nights.”

During their recent stretch that saw them lose four out of five games, the Clippers have had several puzzling losses, but none more so than the one against the Timberwolves that had Lue taking his time to answer questions while simultaneously questioning the team's mental toughness.

“They played tougher than we did for sure,” Tyronn Lue said after the 18-point loss last week. “No doubt pisses me off when it comes to that. Just being mentally tougher, just mentally tougher when stuff gets hard. Just you got to get tougher. And so those are the things we got to do. And so we can talk about schemes, we can talk about a lot of other things, but we just got to be tougher mentally and physically got to be better.”

Clippers get back on track against the Trail Blazers

The Clippers were able to get back on track on Wednesday night with a win against the Portland Trail Blazers. They led by as many as 27 points while the Big 3 of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden combined for 70 points, 20 assists, and ten three-pointers on 55.6 percent shooting from the field.

More importantly, the Clippers' process throughout the night was solid. Starting with a defensive game plan that was executed well, the Clippers held the Blazers to just eight second chance points, an area that's been troublesome for them this season.

Anfernee Simons, who can get hot in a hurry, was held to just 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Since the All-Star Break, Deandre Ayton had been averaging 24.6 points and 14.3 rebounds per game on 64.3 percent shooting from the field, but he was held to just eight points and seven rebounds on the night.

“I thought defensively, we were locked in,” Lue said of the win over Portland. “I thought our blitzes against Simons were really good, I thought our rotations were good and their guys made some shots, give those guys credit but I liked our physicality as well. Defensively is where we're gonna have to hang our hat if we wanna be a good team and I thought tonight defensively, we were really good.”

The Clippers will look to make it nine straight wins against the Blazers on Friday night. LA has also won 15 of their last 16 games against Portland dating back to November 7th, 2019, with the lone win coming on October 9th, 2021.