Why LA Clippers fans should be cautiously optimistic

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 13: Los Angeles Clippers Guard Lou Williams (23) and Los Angeles Clippers Guard Patrick Beverley (21) looks on from the bench during a NBA preseason game between the Melbourne United and the Los Angeles Clippers on October 13, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 13: Los Angeles Clippers Guard Lou Williams (23) and Los Angeles Clippers Guard Patrick Beverley (21) looks on from the bench during a NBA preseason game between the Melbourne United and the Los Angeles Clippers on October 13, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Even though the LA Clippers are a better team than last season, the fans shouldn’t be overly optimistic just yet for a few reasons.

The LA Clippers finished their preseason 2-3 after getting blown out three times thanks to a lack of rebounding and playing shaky defense at costly moments, and now they are 1-0 after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers last night. There have been recent talks from most fans across the NBA about the Clippers being overhyped after their perilous preseason play, but more important than the question of being overhyped is the question of whether they have the potential to win it all this season. Let’s break down what ailed the team throughout the preseason and see if expecting a chip in 2020 really is unrealistic.

Rocky Preseason Ending

The main thing to remember about the preseason is that it doesn’t count, and a lot of NBA fans don’t seem to keep that in mind. Whether the Clippers went 5-0 or 0-5, it doesn’t affect how their record will end up on and beyond October 22nd. The preseason is more valuable for assessing which players deserve starting spots and which people will come up from the G League if any. Even in that case, the Clippers came out with a resounding thud.

The main game to look at was the last preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks. They brought their regular season talents against a Clippers team that had plenty of their starters on the court as well, and Dallas just smacked LA out of the gate. It was a terrible game even if it meant nothing, and Kawhi Leonard‘s play was borderline embarrassing. He was five for nineteen after twenty-two minutes of play and only managed to hit two three-pointers in eight attempts. The starting five players made fifteen field goals in forty-seven attempts, it was that kind of night.

Before anyone starts to panic too much over those numbers, just relax and realize that key players like Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley didn’t get to play at all, and the other piece to that key puzzle in Montrezl Harrell had fourteen points. The other preseason losses that featured other key pieces are mostly swept aside by the casual viewer for their lack of Kawhi, but they were learning experiences for the team to bond with each other. This game was more important than the first few, and for the Clippers to bring what they did even with Kawhi and a few team staples is more than a bit worrying. They’ll have to bring a better game during the regular season against a blossoming Western Conference.

Extraordinarily Tough Wild West

Whatever problems arise from the new chemistry and players won’t hold a candle to the other big challenge that comes from the powered-up Western Conference. Even in the Pacific Division, the LA Clippers have their work cut out for them with the Warriors on the verge of another championship and the Lakers desperately trying for a playoff berth. This year will be much tougher than the last few thanks to the more balanced West.

Looking at their opening night competition in the Lakers, they are a team that has high hopes going into this season as well. King James paired with Anthony Davis is a duo that any team would have their fair share of troubles beating, and with Paul George being out for the first ten games, the Clippers will need to clamp down on defense to earn chances to win against the Lakers. With Kawhi’s dominance and the bench dropping sixty points on opening night, we know now that the Clippers aren’t having too much of a tough time getting their share of chances to win on the offensive side. When we look at teams like the Rockets and the Mavs that just smoked the Clippers in the preseason, that’s when things get really tough. Plenty of Western Conference teams will continue to grow and get better as the season goes along, and the growth of the Clippers is what will decide those close battles.

If the Western Conference stayed how it was about a year ago, the Clippers would be a clear favorite to win the conference title, but there are just so many dynamic duos trying to take the top of the West this year, and for the first year of both Kawhi and George having to find their ways to fit in, it will be a tall task for LA. And that leads us to the last point of doubt in a championship run.

Making the Leap

The main point that all NBA fans need to remember for this season is that it is the first of multiple seasons for the Claw and PG13 on the LA Clippers. It takes time for players to gel into a system, and for a unique team like these Clippers, they worked so well off of each other last season. Adding to that equation leads to a lot of uncertainty.

It’s not just about putting two incredible talents into the lineup and expecting them to drop thirty points each in their first game, that would be ridiculous to expect. But somehow, Kawhi managed to actually drop exactly thirty points after I initially wrote that. Super glad that he read the article early! Jokes aside, the main point to take away from these chemistry struggles is that Kawhi isn’t perfect.

He will have nights where he really struggles and it will be incredibly frustrating for him. It takes time to truly fit Kawhi into the swing of things, and for George, it will take even longer. Once both of them are completely locked in, that’s when expecting a chip won’t be super unrealistic.

As for the returnees from last season, they just might be the saviors of this team despite being sidelined by the two new superstars. If anyone is going to get those early victories, it’ll be underdogs like Landry Shamet with his magical three-pointers. Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele will contribute in time, but they are in the same boats as Kawhi and George in fitting with the team. There are still puzzle pieces that need fitting, and it’ll be a day-to-day process for the Clips.

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In closing, it’s been amazing to see the confidence that LA Clippers fans have brought over the offseason, but it would be wise to maybe turn that confidence into cautious optimism. Clippers fans know well what it’s like to have an ideal situation not go the way it should, and it always strings. It’s a long season dealing with balancing the new players and trying to overcome the improved Western Conference, so the early goings might be very uncomfortable. When it comes to the Clips winning a chip, that can only be answered by how they play together against the other Western Conference powerhouses once Kawhi and Paul finally fit together. There’s nothing more fitting to close this out than the team’s early motto for this year, “Hustle over hype.”