The Clippers will be desperate to end their playoff disappointment…
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The Los Angeles Clippers are ready to rule La La Land, and with new ownership in place, Doc Rivers will be ready to focus minds purely on basketball.
The Clippers went from a highlight reel-friendly outfit to a genuine contender over the course of the regular season, finishing with a 57-25 record to secure third spot in a competitive Western Conference.
Naturally, they claimed the Pacific Division with city rivals, the Lakers, ending rooted to the bottom after another difficult season, and although history ensures that it is still Laker-land, the Clippers are undoubtedly ruining the party for their cross-city rivals.
Blake Griffin took his game to a new level last year with Doc Rivers overseeing the development of the team, but with the Donald Sterling controversy striking at just the wrong time, their playoff curse struck again as they lost in the second-round to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Clippers must take the next step in the post-season and develop winning mentality
The improvement under Rivers was obvious last season, but despite bringing his wealth of playoff basketball experience to the team, it wasn’t quite enough to go on and reach the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers have an array of weapons on this team, and as mentioned above, Griffin made big all-round improvements with averages of 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Chris Paul is a floor general and remains the leader of this team despite the harsh assessment of himself in the aftermath of the loss to the Thunder, and he will hope to avoid injuries this season after being restricted to 63 games last year.
Nevertheless, he still averaged 19.1 points and 10.7 assists per game, and he is more than capable of ensuring that this machine runs smoothly. DeAndre Jordan was also impressive last year as he led the league in rebounding, and his partnership with Griffin was certainly one of the highlights of the Clippers’ play.
The likes of Matt Barnes, JJ Redick and Spencer Hawes give this team depth and quality, while Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford, remains one of the most talented players off the bench in the NBA and he continues to make a real impact.
However, even with the names mentioned above, they still perhaps lack solid outside scoring and Jordan can hurt them late in games with his free-throw deficiencies. Perhaps the biggest test for the Clippers is the mental aspect of overcoming tough situations late in the season, but fortunately they will have no Sterling-related distractions this time round.
They were the highest scoring team in the NBA last season with an average of 107.9 points per game, but their points against average at 101.0 was also one of the highest of their direct rivals. In addition, having gone 34-7 at the Staples Center, Rivers’ team went 23-18 on the road, and that will certainly be a concern.
The San Antonio Spurs still appear to be the team to beat as Gregg Popovich and his usual suspects look to defend the title they won so impressively last season. However, Kevin Durant’s injury coupled with the steady progress that the Clippers have made under Rivers, the franchise can realistically aim for as high as the second seed in the West.
Houston, Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix will all be involved in the playoff race, but the Clippers look a level above at this stage and they will be able to win enough games to steer clear of that battle for spots between 4-8.
However, it is much more difficult to predict how they will fare in the post-season, as despite high expectations in recent years, they have always failed to deliver. Depending on the luck of the draw, expect them to come through a first round playoff series again, but their winning mentality may well be brought back into question if they come up against either the Spurs or the Thunder in the Conference Finals.
PG: Chris Paul
SG: JJ Redick
SF: Matt Barnes
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Sixth Man: Jamal Crawford