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Point & Counterpoint: The State Of The Clippers

Paolo Uggetti, Jackson Safon |
February 18, 2015 | 12:19 a.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor, Staff Reporter

POINT : The Clippers WILL NOT make the playoffs

Blake Griffin's injury could potentially endanger the Clippers' playoff hopes. (@EmpireWritesBck/Twitter)
Blake Griffin's injury could potentially endanger the Clippers' playoff hopes. (@EmpireWritesBck/Twitter)

Jackson Safon: In arguably the toughest Western Conference in the history of the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers are currently sixth, but only a half game ahead of the seventh-place San Antonio Spurs. After that, however, there is a large drop-off, with the Clippers holding a six game lead over the Suns and Thunder, and a seven game lead over the Pelicans, who are all fighting for that final spot.

With Blake Griffin sidelined for 4-6 weeks because of surgery to remove a staph infection, there are questions over how much ground the Clippers will lose in Griffin’s absence. 

Having Chris Paul and an improving Deandre Jordan, the Clippers clearly aren’t a squad of bums dependent only on Griffin, and they proved they can still play with a dominating win over the Rockets last Wednesday. But losing arguably their best player puts them in jeopardy in the Western Conference. 

Griffin’s injury has some reports were saying he is out indefinitely, while others say standard recovery time is 4-6 weeks. Yet even if Griffin returns at the early end of that timetable, he will still be missing 13 more games, and in those 13 games the Clippers have the hardest schedule in the NBA. 

The Clips play the Spurs, Bulls, Trailblazers, Warriors, Thunder and Mavericks, as well as the Grizzlies and Rockets twice. That’s 10 of their next 13 games against NBA Finals contenders. (The other three are against the Kings and Timberwolves twice.) 

It would not surprise people to see the Clippers go 3-10 in those games, which could very well eliminate their lead over the Thunder, Suns, and Pelicans in just one month. 

If Griffin is out for longer than that, the Clippers have even bigger issues. While their schedule after that 13 game stretch does get easier, they still have to play the Wizards, Pelicans, Warriors, and Trailblazers in the two weeks following. 

Despite it being a virtual certainty that the Clippers will be worse off without Griffin, their playoff spot seems like it has a good chance to be taken from them. The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best winning percentages in the league with Durant and Westbrook on the floor together, so it is highly likely they make the playoffs. That leaves the Suns and Pelicans as the two teams left potentially vying for the Clippers’ spot. 

The Suns have been cold recently, but have an easier schedule in the upcoming weeks. In the same time frame as the Clippers’ brutal 13-game stretch, eight out of the Suns’ next 14 opponents are under .500. In the same stretch, the Pelicans play teams above .500 in only three of their next 13 games. It’s safe to say the opportunity is there for both the Suns and the Pelicans, the question is whether they can take advantage. 

Personally, I think the Clippers will finish the season out of the playoffs. Considering they have been a perennial contender ever since Chris Paul arrived, this is a bit surprising. But losing your best player and making some poor offseason moves can do that to you. The Thunder have their weaknesses, but when Westbrook and Durant are both healthy, they can beat anyone. 

With the Spurs moving up to the sixth seed, I see the Thunder filling the seven-hole. That leaves the Clippers, Suns, and Pelicans fighting for that eighth spot. Chris Paul won’t go quietly into the night, but neither will Anthony Davis, and neither will the feisty backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. In a race that could go down to the final game as the Clippers and Suns play each other in their final game, I see the Suns finally knocking down the door and making the playoffs.  

Reach Staff Reporter Jackson Safon here.

Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan will need to step into the void left by Griffin's absence. (@NBAdeOnPen/Twitter)
Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan will need to step into the void left by Griffin's absence. (@NBAdeOnPen/Twitter)

COUNTERPOINT: The Clippers WILL remain in the playoffs. 

Paolo Uggetti: Having recently rid themselves of seemingly their biggest obstacle in Donald Sterling, the Clippers came into this season with a lot of promise. They had continuity, talent and a great coach. 

But as it is with the NBA nowadays, things don’t always translate so smoothly to the hardwood. Thanks to some questionable front-office decisions that turned out to be less than optimal, and a failure to construct a cohesive, consistent style of play among a deadly Western Conference, the Clippers’ season has been riddled with one question: What is wrong with them?

The answer is not as simple as the aforementioned question, but there’s something to be said for heightened expectations playing a substantial part in the criticism surrounding them. This team deserved the expectations that were thrust upon them for all the reasons listed above, but in the larger scheme of things, overreaction has, to an extent, taken the place of constructive criticism. 

Yes, the Clippers are all the way down in the sixth spot of the West with a daunting schedule on its way, but for a team that’s been so inconsistent, aren’t they due for a successful run in the second half of the season? And given the unpredictability and excitement this campaign has provided, wouldn’t it be fitting that they do it albeit one of their best players?

The narrative would be ideal and the numbers show some promise. 

Though the biggest gripe most basketball pundits have with the Clippers this season is that their basketball looks and feels unappealing and ineffective, the reality is that their offense has been working on all cylinders.

Would you believe me if I told you that by both traditional and advanced metrics, the Clippers are the best team in the league on the offensive side of the court? 

Would you believe me that the top-5 offensive players in the league per NBA.com are all five of the Clippers starters? More precisely, and perhaps more importantly, the “worst” offensive player on the Clips starting five is Griffin himself, who will reportedly be out 3-6 weeks. 

Griffin’s impact goes beyond his offense obviously, especially when this season has not exactly mirrored his MVP-caliber 2013-14 campaign. But to say that Griffin is the consummate player the Clips solely rely on would be a reach, and to think they will fall off the playoff picture just due to his absence is not a surefire conclusion. 

It’s not debatable that the Clippers are losing something big with Griffin, but thankfully, that’s where DeAndre Jordan comes in. 

The long-bodied center is having one of his best seasons of his careers, and embracing the under-the-radar, playing-behind-Griffin mentality that has allowed him to freely play to his potential, whatever it may be. 

This season, at least, it looks like his ceiling may be higher than expected, his talent more honed than previously perceived. 

Through half a season, Jordan is a top-3 player in offensive, defensive and overall rebounding percentage, while averaging a league-best 13.8 rebounds per game. 

Since November, Jordan’s scoring has been on an uprising trend, reaching a peak of 16.3 points per game in the month of February. His role on the Clippers, as his notoriety around the league, has risen gradually, as to adapt to his own talented, statistical rise. Slowly but surely, and all while maintaining a relatively low profile, Jordan has shaped his game into an all-around performer (sans his free throw shooting, of course).

Without Griffin on the floor in these upcoming weeks, Jordan is poised to take the next big step in his career. Now that he will be relied on to carry a bigger offensive load and instill a more influential defensive presence, the stage is set for him to display what kind of player he can be. 

The Clippers are certainly hoping that’s the case. Their playoff future may depend on it. 

But it is impossible to talk of the Clippers’ most important players and their playoff chances without talking about their anchor, Chris Paul. 

To speak of Paul’s talents and abilities would be to hammer home an already overstated point. There’s a reason many still consider him one of, if not the best point guard in the league. Such title is still pinned on CP3 largely due to his now-unique ability to be…an original point guard. 

In a weird way, Paul is the team’s most important and talented player because of the role he has been cast into. Most of the time he commandeers the floor, acting solely as a floor general by fueling his team with great assists and defense, alongside the occasional, scattered scoring.

But every once in a while, the “Point God” can rev up his offensive game and drop 30+ without notice or regard for his opponent. He’s like a powerful defibrillator, always ready at any moment’s notice to give his team the jumpstart they need.That’s what makes him so dangerous. 

A Griffin-less Clippers squad taking on some of the best teams in the league while residing in the toughest conference we’ve seen is ages is one that’s left increasingly vulnerable. There’s no question about that. But while the Pelicans, Thunders and Suns all gauge each other’s eyes for the eight spot, the Clippers will calmly turn to their other two important players.

Though the Clippers are 11-7 against the teams in the next 13 games, winning won’t be easy, but by the surge of Jordan and the stalwart of Paul, the Clippers will travel through the West’s valley of death and into the playoffs. 

Book it. 

Reach Associate Sports Editor Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter at @PaoloUggetti.



 

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