The uber-competitive Western Conference has so many strong contenders that the Los Angeles Clippers seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t too long ago that they were seen as one of the heavy favorites to win the NBA title, especially with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George giving a squad that had already made the playoffs a dynamic duo of their own.
The loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Orlando bubble, however, seemed to have taken a bit off their luster, especially when they lost the likes of Montrezl Harrell and head coach Doc Rivers later in the offseason. Even the offseason additions of Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum plus the promotion of Tyronn Lue as head coach did not inspire much despite the depth and continuity those moves provided.
Jokes and skepticism aside, the Clippers remain as one of the stronger teams in the West even as injuries and COVID-19 protocols limited their chances of playing with a full lineup. Lue has been able to make do with what he had at each point in time and the emergence of Batum, Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson, sophomore Terrence Mann, and midseason addition Rajon Rondo have all exemplified the next-man-up mentality that has helped keep the Clippers among the top teams in the West. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to have Kawhi and PG even when they’re not at 100 percent.
Leonard and George have also made strides in ensuring that the offense does not remain as predictable as it was last season. Both are actually averaging career-highs in assists at around five dimes apiece, so they have done their share of ensuring that ball movement will help them get the best shot possible. They’ve never had problems getting their own shots (at least in the regular season), so sharing the ball has only unlocked more of their offensive potential.
The team numbers back this up, as they point to Los Angeles being among the best teams in the league. Their net rating is third in the NBA and their league-best 3-point and free-throw percentages indicate that they maximize their possessions despite having the 28th ranked pace. It also helps that they limit their opponents to the second-lowest rebounds per game at 41.2.
The Clippers are 2-3 in their last five games, with both wins sandwiched in between a three-game skid. There is some context to this, as Leonard missed two of those losses but overall it still goes to show that there is still work to be done. Both Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins need to be oriented into the offense, while having more games with a complete lineup would help them get their rhythm where they want it to be heading into the postseason.
The 3.5-game difference between the Clippers and both the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns may be tougher to overcome with only six games left on the regular season so the goal at this point is to keep themselves in an advantageous position heading into the playoffs. What’s currently working in their favor is that they have one of the easiest schedules based on their remaining games, especially when you add the fact that they haven’t lost any games to their upcoming opponents this season. To add to that, they only have one back-to-back set towards the end of their schedule, with both games coming against sub .500 teams.
|Opponent||Date of Next Matchup (Manila Time)||Current Seed in Conference|
|Los Angeles Lakers||May 07||6th (West)|
|New York Knicks||May 10||4th (East)|
|Toronto Raptors||May 12||11th (East)|
|Charlotte Hornets||May 14||8th (East)|
|Houston Rockets||May 15||15th (West)|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||May 17||13th (West)|
If the postseason started today, the Clippers would be facing the Lakers in a “Battle of LA” that may be too early for many. However, the fifth to eighth seeds are so close to one another that the situation remains in flux.
There’s no rest for the weary, and that especially applies to the Los Angeles Clippers and the rest of the Western Conference teams. Every game matters, to the point that even the outcomes of their opponents’ games against other teams matter. After the debacle they experienced in last year’s playoffs, the Clippers have learned that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this team-oriented concept can help them get over the hump this postseason.