5 Things to Watch for During LA Clippers' Final Games
Seasons are typically defined by how they end. Successful teams are graded based on their playoff performance, while poor teams sort of drift into obscurity. The Los Angeles Clippers will be one of the teams graded by how they perform during the playoffs, but that does not mean there is a shortage of accomplishment to reach the remainder of the season.
Considering the playoffs are in sight, seeding is obviously the top priority. Still, there are plenty of things to keep an eye on. Most of them will have major implications on the Clippers’ performance during the playoffs. Here are five things to keep an eye on for the remainder of the regular season. Which ones are the most important? That is for you to decide by letting me know in the comments.
There is no question in my mind that the Los Angeles Clippers want no part of the four versus five matchup again this season. Sitting within striking distance of the top seed out West, the Clippers are also battling the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rights to the No. 2 seed. Considering the Clippers hold a 2-1 edge in the season series, an intense race is shaping up for the remainder of the season.
A 10-game winning streak has allowed the Clippers to make up ground on the San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder. However, all that could be meaningless unless the team closes out the season strong. A showdown with the Thunder hangs in the balance during the last week of the season, as the two conference elites will meet one last time in what should be an electric atmosphere at the Staples Center.
The last thing to keep an eye on is how the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies finish the regular season, because both teams are likely first-round playoff matchups if the standings hold true. The Clippers must close out the season strong and guarantee themselves home court in round one.
All season long Doc Rivers has preached defense and intensity. Although it took some time for the players to adjust to Rivers’ scheme, it all seems to have come to fruition. Since February 1, the Los Angeles Clippers rank fifth in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. To make matters even more complicated for the opposition, the Clippers rank first in net rating by a whopping 4.7 points.
Rivers will get credit for helping improve a lackluster defense, one that was abused by the Memphis Grizzlies in last season’s playoffs. However, the defensive growth of Blake Griffin, and especially DeAndre Jordan, has vaulted the team into uncharted territory.
Overall, the team has bought into Rivers’ system and now plays as one cohesive unit. The team’s depth and overall talent level has helped fill in some of the missing gaps the team suffered from last season. Danny Granger and Glen Davis have played well, but more important, provide Rivers options and the ability to mix and match defensive coverages that he could not do early in the season.
The one Achilles' heel that seems to continuously haunt the franchise has been injuries. While the team has not suffered from a drastic injury so far this season, they have had their fair share of scares, more notably J.J. Redick’s back.
While the Clippers are deeper than they have ever been, recovering and staying healthy is a major priority. Nearly every player besides Jordan and Griffin—knock on wood—has battled through some sort of relevant injury this season.
Now that the regular season is winding down it becomes imperative that players who are battling injury recover and stay healthy. Regardless how deep the team is, Redick’s ability to expand the floor during the playoffs is a huge asset. Here is to hoping for a healthy playoff push this season, because the last two playoff appearances have not been kind on the injury front.
Blake Griffin’s Play
There might not be another player hotter in the entire NBA than Blake Griffin, February’s Western Conference Player of the Month. According to NBA.com, Griffin is averaging 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists since February 1. Griffin excelled with Chris Paul out injured, but with Paul back he has played just as well, if not better.
Additionally, Griffin has absolutely abused anyone he has matched up with, mainly because of his newfound aggressiveness. Furthermore, his improved jumper has made him nearly impossible to defend, at least lately. Combine that with his excellent vision and quick first step and he has catapulted himself into the discussion for Most Valuable Player.
The Clippers will surely rely on Griffin to power their playoff run this season, which is somewhat of a change from the past two seasons. Griffin has proved that he is capable of carrying the team to wins, allowing Chris Paul to act even more as a lethal facilitator for the rest of the team.
Perhaps the most interesting position battle, the forwards on the roster are going to be slugging it out to solidify their minutes in the playoff rotation. The additions of Danny Granger and Glen Davis have crowded the forward position. Rivers has been forced to give the two new additions minutes in order to see how he can employ them into his rotation.
Rivers need to find out exactly what Davis and Granger can provide and mix them in without disrupting the team’s great chemistry. Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley have both been playing poorly most of the season and have also been injured. The good news is that Rivers can let everyone battle each other for increased playing time.
This will be an entertaining storyline to follow the remainder of the regular season. The Clippers do not need much offensively from any of their wings, but if one of them steps up their game on either side of the floor, the Clippers might be playing well into May this season.