Los Angeles Clippers 2020 Playoff Preview
Entering the 2019-20 NBA season, expectations for the Los Angeles Clippers were the highest in the franchise’s history. The additions of superstar forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George raised the ceiling of this team and vaulted them into championship contenders. Injuries took place earlier in the season as George continued to rehab through shoulder surgery that he had undergone earlier in the offseason. With Leonard and George both in and out of the lineup, (Leonard due to load management and George due to surgery) we have yet to consistently see what this team is capable of at full strength.
While key players such as Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Landry Shamet all missed the final seeding game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, all are expected to join the team before the first game or sometime during the first round. The Clippers will finally be healthy for the playoffs and are ready to make a deep postseason run. They finished the season as the two seed in the West with a 49-23 record (5-3 during the NBA restart). They will face off against Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The biggest strength of this Clippers team is their depth as well as their versatility on defense. The Clippers are arguably the deepest team in the NBA consisting of two established superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two Sixth Man of the Year finalists in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, an elite perimeter defender in Patrick Beverley, and a head coach with years of playoff success and a championship under his belt in Doc Rivers.
The depth of this team is a huge luxury. Their ability and knack to switch everything on defense will be critical come playoff time. A starting lineup consisting of Beverley, George, and Leonard is capable of locking down even the most elite scoring threats and creates havoc on teams that heavily rely on the offensive side of the floor to win them games.
The biggest weakness of the Clippers is lack of playing time together. While they have clinched the two seed in the stacked Western Conference, they are still much better than their record indicates. Their lack of playing time together leaves lingering questions.
Paul George has a narrative attached to him of underperforming in the playoffs, will he silence that narrative this season? Lou Williams missed the team’s first two games of the restart due to quarantine. Montrezl Harrell is expected to be ready for the playoffs, but he has missed all eight seeding games. For title contenders like the Clippers, the restart was a perfect opportunity to establish a rhythm heading into the playoffs. The Clippers have the talent to compete with any team in the league, but how and if they will put it all together when it matters most is what will define their season.
The success or failure of the Clippers will be dependent on taking care of the basketball and limiting turnovers. The Clippers rank second in the NBA in offensive rating and fifth in the NBA in defensive rating. Their efficiency on both sides of the floor will keep them in games even if a key player is having a subpar shooting night.
Last year during the Raptors’ historic championship run, we watched as teams would double Leonard and force him to give the ball up to a teammate. If opposing teams elect to go the same route this year, Leonard will have the luxury of passing to the open man for a high-quality shot. The Clippers are sixth in the NBA in three-point percentage at 37.1 percent as a team. If the Clippers value their possessions and don’t get sloppy with the ball, they will be incredibly difficult to contain.
Players to Watch
An under the radar player that could have a big impact for the Clippers is Marcus Morris. Morris was acquired from the New York Knicks before the trade deadline and is now a key scoring threat as their starting power forward. While his numbers have slightly regressed since the trade, look no further than his stats with the Knicks earlier this season. In 43 games with the Knicks, Morris averaged a career high 19.6 points per game on 43.9 percent from three. Now on a championship contending team with dangerous scorers such as Leonard and George, the defensive pressure will be primarily focused on them. This will allow Morris to play to his strengths in a more complementary role.
Another player to watch will be Montrezl Harrell. Harrell serves as the bruiser of this Clippers team. He is a presence in the paint both offensively and on the glass. Many Western Conference teams are loaded on size, including their first-round matchup, the Dallas Mavericks. Harrell is someone who plays with true grit and if he is clamping down the dangerous frontcourts that reside within the Western Conference, the Clippers will be a tougher out than originally expected.
Estimated Playoff Run
The Clippers are championship contenders and have a legitimate chance to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in the history of their franchise. While many NBA news outlets and analysts have the rival Lakers as their pick for this year’s title, this Clippers team certainly has the talent and firepower to compete with them, as well as any team for that matter, in a seven-game series.
Any team led by the reigning finals MVP is never going to be an easy out in the playoffs. Combine that with a versatile team of defensive menaces and offensive threats and you have this year’s Los Angeles Clippers, the underrated favorite to win the championship in the most bizarre season in NBA history.