NBA Daily: Clippers Ready for Playoff Run
David Yapkowitz takes a look at the postseason ahead for the Los Angeles Clippers.
None of this seemed possible a few months ago. But, in less than a week, the 2020 NBA playoffs are set to get underway. The Los Angeles Clippers, who secured the second seed in the Western Conference, will face the No. 7 seeded Dallas Mavericks.
This time last season, the Clippers were the scrappy eighth seed and, while they were clearly outmatched, they never backed down; they threw everything they had at the Golden State Warriors. A solid group of players, led by Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac, and so on, the general consensus was that, already with a strong supporting cast, the Clippers just needed a star to put it all together.
Of course, jumping from the eighth to the second spot in a highly-competitive Western Conference is nothing to scoff at. But, when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George donned Clipper jerseys that summer, it changed everything. Now, Los Angeles isn’t mulling over regular season success or even season-to-season improvment — they have something else on their minds, their sights set on something bigger: the NBA Finals and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
To make it clear, getting here hasn’t been easy. Despite the arrival of Leonard and George, Los Angeles had a hard time staying healthy: various players missed a handful of games here and there, the star-duo included, and it was rare to see the roster at 100 percent health. And yet, when they did managed to have everyone on the court, they showed why they were considered a favorite to win the title.
Beyond that, questions remained as to whether or not the Clippers would be able to string together enough consistency and cohesiveness with a full lineup to be able to gel as a unit before the playoffs began.
Then, the season came to an abrupt halt as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe.
Despite the non-wavering optimism from Commissioner Adam Silver and the players themselves, the 2019-20 season was in serious jeopardy. Later, when the NBA announced their plan to resume an Orlando bubble, it was met with some major skepticism — teams were essentially being asked to make the trek to a region where the virus has continued to run rampant. But they held firm, with the belief that proper precautions would be taken and the correct safety controls would be utilized.
And they were right — despite some minor hiccups, the bubble has been a huge success. And, as funny as it may seem, the situation has benefitted the Clippers: with most disjointed after a long mid-season layoff, seeding might not mean as much as it would have in any other normal season. With no home-court advantage, every game should prove a level playing field.
In that vein, head coach Doc Rivers explained that the team didn’t really talk about the two seed in the locker room after they secured the spot with their win over the Denver Nuggets last Wednesday.
“I didn’t mention we secured the two seed. I don’t think anybody in the locker room talked about it. We really don’t care,” Rivers said. “We want to win it all. We got to improve as a team, we know that. We have work to do. We’re going into the playoffs with that mindset, that’s the only thing that matters right now for us.”
Not only that, but the temporary hiatus may have benefitted the Clippers in another way; given their inability to field a healthy roster, the pause allowed for some much-needed rest and time to hyper-focus on the task at hand.
Now, the Clippers are as close to full strength as they could possibly be, save for Harrell who just returned to the bubble after the death of a family member. He’ll have to go through a mandatory quarantine before he’s allowed to rejoin his teammates and prepare for the postseason.
But for Leonard and George in particular, they’re feeling the best they’ve felt all season long.
“I thought coming into this, I did a great job preparing for the bubble,” George said after the win over the Nuggets. “My wind is not quite where I want it, but it’s better than where it was… I feel really good. Kawhi has been feeling really good. I think just overall the staff is managing us going down the stretch.”
These playoffs are going to be something different, unlike any we’ve seen before. Players always had to be at peak form come the postseason, but with no home-court, it’s going to be even more about who is ready and who really came to Orlando to compete.
The Clippers have looked a little bit inconsistent since the bubble games got underway, but so have the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, the teams considered to be the Clippers biggest threats to the 2019 championship.
Lou Williams has played on a lot of different teams over his 15-year NBA career, but at the beginning of this season, he mentioned that he felt like this was the best shot he had at winning that elusive NBA title. And now, with the playoffs finally here, he still feels that way.
“I think we’re a highly talented team. I think the only thing that can stop us really is the effort we put forth out on the floor, how much we play together,” Williams said after the win over the Nuggets. “Meshing is important to us, everybody being on the same accord on the offensive and defensive end…We feel like we are in control of our destiny. If everybody locks in, gets on the same page, I really like our opportunity.”
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