The L.A. Clippers have seen better days, as they come into Wednesday’s game against Phoenix having lost three in a row and currently sitting in the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference standings.
Fortunately, they sit just a game-and-a-half behind Denver for the No. 3 seed, so there’s still hope that they can climb back into a more favorable position.
The Western Conference is very deep this year, and it really wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a lower seed topple a higher seed once the playoffs roll around.
So, which of those lower seeds SHOULD the Clippers want to face in the first round, if any?
Golden State Warriors
As things stand today, the Warriors find themselves in sixth in the conference, although they’re just a game ahead of Houston.
Golden State has proven to be quite the matchup problem for the Clippers so far this season, as they won the season series 3-1 in fairly dominant fashion.
As has been the case for years, the Warriors thrive on an up-and-down offensive style predicated on elite three-point shooting. They’re anchored by arguably the league’s best shooter in Stephen Curry, and he’s flanked by fellow gunners like Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack.
One of the Clippers’ primary weaknesses all year long has been defending the three-point line. Despite having several solid perimeter defensive players, for some reason they struggle tremendously in rotating properly, particularly on the outside. The Warriors made 12 three-pointers in each of their last two wins over L.A.
Obviously, this is cause for concern if you’re the Clippers.
For a team that shoots so well from deep, the Warriors also have some very capable bigs. David Lee, of course, is an All-Star, but the Clips have actually done a pretty solid job shutting him down offensively this season. He did have a big 24-point, 13-rebound game, but he’s only scored 10, 12 and eight in each of the other three matchups. Blake Griffin has fared very well against Lee throughout his brief career.
Andrew Bogut isn’t the player he used to be while he was in Milwaukee, but he’s been dealing with injuries. He’s just now getting to where he can play every day, and somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes per game. When he’s at his best, he’s one of the league’s formidable interior defenders. His per-48 minutes stats are actually quite good, and he’s averaging nearly two blocks a game despite only averaging 25 minutes per game.
They also have solid forward depth, with Carl Landry and Draymond Green giving them good minutes off-the-bench.
The Clippers enjoy the up-tempo style of play, of course, but that’s a dangerous game to play if you’re facing Golden State.
As is the case with any team, L.A. is going to have to limit the number of three-pointers they allow. Otherwise, they’ll be staring at a first-round upset, should they come across the Warriors.
The Clippers faced the Grizz in the first round of last year’s playoffs, as you may remember. The series was back-and-forth and culminated with a stunning Clipper victory in game seven in Memphis. It was also in this series when the Clippers pulled-off the equally-stunning 27-point comeback in the fourth quarter to steal game one.
Memphis may be the best all-around defensive team in the league. They were able to replace Rudy Gay, an inefficient offensive player and subpar defensive wing, with Tayshaun Prince, who has been one of the league’s most consistently solid wing defenders for the last decade.
The most important player, though, is Marc Gasol. Pau’s “little” brother has quietly become one of the better overall players in the league, particularly on the defensive end. He’s immense with incredibly quick hands that give opposing bigs fits. He’s also incredibly disciplined, so he won’t be fooled into committing foolish fouls very often. DeAndre Jordan could stand to learn a thing or two about committing dumb fouls.
He recently suffered an abdominal tear that was expected to keep him out for a significant amount of time, although he wound up missing just two games. The departure of Gay has also helped to increase his utilization on the offensive end, where he’s extremely efficient.
Another of Memphis’ key cogs is Gasol’s frontcourt running mate, Zach Randolph. Randolph wasn’t healthy throughout the majority of last season, and, as a result, wasn’t playing at his highest level once the playoffs rolled around. He’s back to his old double-double ways again this season, averaging about 15 points and 11 boards a night.
So far, the Clippers have taken two of the three meetings with the Grizzlies, but those two wins did come before Gay was dealt to Toronto. The Grizzlies suffocated L.A. in the most recent matchup; a 96-85 Memphis victory on March 13. They have one highly-important matchup remaining this year on April 13.
As it stands today, Memphis actually is a game-and-a-half better than the Clippers record-wise, but because of the rules, the Clippers technically still own the No. 4 seed.
The Clippers won two of the three meetings with the Rockets this season, but did lose the most recent matchup in embarrassing fashion. To be fair, this was the final game of a brutal four-game road trip, and the second night of a back-to-back, but they lost to Houston by 17 points while the Rockets were playing without their best player, James Harden.
Harden has changed the face of Houston’s franchise since coming over in a trade from OKC just prior to the start of the season. Last season’s Sixth Man of the Year has thrived in his new role, averaging 26 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.
The Rockets, like the Warriors, prefer the up-tempo style of play predicated on getting fastbreak buckets and three-pointers. Harden and Jeremy Lin combine to form as highly-potent a scoring backcourt as anyone else in the league. Harden has also attempted the most (and made the most) free throws in the league this season. Houston doesn’t run a set offense, per se, but rather uses several screens that allow Harden or Lin to get into the paint where they’ll either finish themselves or kick it out to open three-point shooters like Chandler Parsons or Carlos Delfino.
Parsons has developed into one of the better “glue guys” in the league in his second season, averaging 15 points and five boards per game while shooting a respectable 35 percent from deep. The Rockets are also the youngest team in the league.
Another guy opposing teams have to worry about is Omer Asik, who has been a revelation since signing a $25M contract over the summer and coming over from Chicago. He’s a giant seven-footer that, in his limited role with the Bulls, showed tremendous defensive potential. Like Marc Gasol, he won’t be fooled into committing unnecessary fouls. He’s still very unpolished offensively, but he’s second in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 11.6 boards per game. He gets his points primarily off of the offensive glass or on feeds from the penetrating Harden or Lin.
Houston is tied with New York for the most threes attempted per game at 28.7. This is a problem for the Clippers, of course, because they can’t keep teams off of the three-point line with great effectiveness.
I would still think the Clippers have enough depth and better star power to where they’d beat Houston in a seven-game series, but the Rockets won’t bow out easily.
This would be the least favorable matchup for the Clippers. The Nuggets are as hot as any team in the league, and they’ve beaten the Clippers in two of the three matchups.
They’ve won 16 of 18 games overall, and they’re virtually unbeatable on their home court, with a record of 33-3 at Pepsi Center. They’re pretty pedestrian on the road, however, where they’re just 17-21.
Denver blew out the Clippers in the latest matchup on March 7th, although, to be fair, that was the second half of a back-to-back for L.A., and no teams win in Denver on the second half of a back-to-back.
The Nuggets have tremendous depth, and have the personnel to play any style. They have the athletes in the frontcourt (JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried) to play up-and-down, and the shooters (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler) to slow it down and kill you in the halfcourt.
Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe will have their hands full defensively, as well, with the young Ty Lawson and the old Andre Miller running point on the other side. Lawson is sidelined at the moment with a torn plantar fascia, but he’s expected to return by the time the playoffs roll around.
None of these four teams are ideal matchups for the Clippers, but this isn’t the Eastern Conference, so there are no easy outs.
In order of most favorable matchups for L.A., I’d rank them Houston, Memphis, Golden State, Denver, with Denver, as mentioned above, being the least desirable.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.