This was supposed to be “the year” for the Los Angeles Clippers, at least this year or next. They hired Doc Rivers as head coach to infuse some championship toughness into a team that had finally gotten out of the shadow of the crosstown Lakers, but has yet to make it as far as the conference finals.
And this may very well be “the year” for the Clips—they’re 37-18 and sitting in the #4 spot in the Western Conference, a tightly packed race when ending up anywhere from #2 to #6 is well within reach. But there’s also some issues that can cause disappointment come playoff time again if not rectified.
The biggest factor is the health of Chris Paul. The point guard has been on-again off-again with his injury status and Rivers will have to pace his leader to allow him full health for the playoffs. Paul averages 19 points/11 assists per game and brings an intangible quality to this team no one else can. Doc has had experience pacing veterans like this when he coached the Celtics, so Paul is in good hands.
In the meantime, Darren Collision is a steady hand as a backup point guard and the Clippers are in good shape at the two-guard spot, with Jamal Crawford averaging 19 ppg and J.J. Redick on hand as a three-point specialist. Redick’s skills are badly needed, as even with him, Los Angeles ranks 23rd in the NBA in converting from behind the arc. They are also a poor free throw shooting team, meaning Redick is almost a necessity to be involved in end-game situations.
Blake Griffin is perceived as soft by a lot of NBA players, for his flopping routines and an alleged general lack of toughness. I won’t get into that, but there’s no denying how productive Griffin is. He’s averaging 24 points/10 rebounds and is one of the best interior players in the game today. DeAndre Jordan is a rebounding force at center, getting 14 boards a game. It makes the Clippers’ subpar #19 ranking in rebounding a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the guards are consistently being outhustled for long rebounds.
Small forward is a weakness, with Jared Dudley unproductive and Matt Barnes more of a hockey-style enforcer (or protector, depending on your interpretation). When you measure the Clippers against the high standards it will take to win even one—much less three—playoff series in the Western Conference, these weaknesses start to stand out like a sore thumb. At the very least, the rebounding must improve.
If the rebounding picks up, this is still a team that can go deep into the postseason—at least to the conference finals and perhaps further. Los Angeles ranks 2nd in the NBA in offensive efficiency, a byproduct of having one of the game’s best point guards steer your attack, and they’re at #8 on the defensive end. They have star power in the backcourt, the post and on the sidelines. They’ve played well enough prior to the All-Star break to put themselves in good position. Now it’s time to finally cash in some chips.