Can the Clippers compete with the top teams in the Western Conference?

Dec 16, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of the Staples Center during an NBA basketball game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 16, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of the Staples Center during an NBA basketball game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Clippers are a really good team, but, “really good” doesn’t seem to cut it anymore, especially in the stacked Western Conference. So, do the Clippers have enough to be able to grind out a tough 7 game series against any of the teams above them in the standings?

Come playoff time, all the teams in the NBA lock in and their game moves up onto a whole new level.  Great teams such as the Grizzlies and the Jazz could potentially be in store for the Clippers in the first round. Later match-ups against teams such as the Warriors and the Rockets could also be a possibility.

On paper, the Clippers were one of the favorites to advance to the Finals before the season had started, and for good reason. Nowadays, it is extremely rare for a team to have two All-Star front-court players, along with a great point guard. So, why hasn’t this translated into long playoff runs in the past?

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Injuries and lack of depth have crippled the Clippers in recent years. But, heading into the next 20 or so games before the playoffs begin, the team has a clean bill of health, especially with the return of Chris Paul and the long-anticipated debut of Brice Johnson. Depth has also been addressed and has paid dividends, shown by the additions of Mo Speights and Raymond Felton.

At the moment, LA is floating around the middle of the playoff picture, and should probably end up finishing 4th or 5th in the West. For argument’s sake, let’s just say that the Clippers play either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. There are some positive and negatives to this. Personally, I believe that the Clippers would be better off falling to the 6th seed. In this way they avoid a second-round meeting with the Warriors. However, that means that they would have to play against the Rockets in the first round. I prefer this match-up over playing two incredible defensive teams in the Jazz and the Grizzlies.

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The Clippers can definitely fight against the “run and gun” offense that Mike D’Antoni uses, but what Houston lacks are good front-court players. Blake and DeAndre should be able to chip away and score easy buckets against the big men opposing them. (Houston ranks 24th in points allowed compared to LA who rank 11th in the same category). By slowing down the game and allowing CP3 to play his game, Houston’s momentum will be limited.

Furthermore, this allows the Clippers the luxury of facing off against the second seeded team. This will most likely be the San Antonio Spurs. Evading the Warriors until at least the Conference Finals is a blessing for the Clippers, who have lost 10 games in a row to them. On the other hand, the record against the Spurs is much more evenly shared; LA also has a recent playoff win against San Antonio, defeating them in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. All in all, it seems like the Clippers have a much better chance of beating Houston and San Antonio. Saying that, it doesn’t mean that it will be impossible for them to beat Utah or Memphis.

I believe that LA could find less success playing against either of the aforementioned teams as both are a rare breed in the NBA. They are great defensively but also having an above average offense. For example, Utah rank 3rd in defensive efficiency but also 12th offensively. In a series like this, the Clippers will have one massive advantage: experience. Apart from George Hill, none of the other starters have any playoff experience. This could cost them games in clutch situations. Otherwise they are a very strong team, and should do some major damage in the West in the future.

Overall, the Clippers really are in good shape to make a solid run in this year’s playoffs, no matter who they face off against in the first round. They can counter a team like Houston with their own offensive talents in both shooting  but also in the post. If they play the Jazz or Memphis the story will be different;  consistency becomes more important in order to find holes and weaknesses in their defenses.

Later on, teams such as the Spurs and the Warriors will obviously be harder to beat. However, with Kevin Durant injured there are doubts to whether Golden State will even make it that far. So, the Clippers’ chance of advancing increases. Let’s hope that most of what has been analyzed comes to fruition, and the Clippers end up going as deep as possible. Hopefully they’ll even have a ring at the end of the year.