The Los Angeles Clippers have done all the right things this season.
When their superstar point guard Chris Paul sat out with a shoulder injury they thrived as forward Blake Griffin took his game to an MVP-worthy level. After starting shooting guard J.J. Redick was sidelined with a bulging disc, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford stepped in and went bananas, scoring the ball at a highly efficient rate. General Manager Gary Saks and Doc Rivers, Clippers head coach who is also the teams Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, swapped the unproductive Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison for studs Danny Granger and “Big Baby” Glen Davis. Matt Barnes has shown that shooting the ball has been an overlooked dimension of his game, DeAndre Jordan has been compared to the great Bill Russell and Darren Collison is putting up major buckets playing in and out of the starting lineup.
The Clippers have persevered and the basketball Gods owe them complete health to begin the post season.
J.J. Redick is on the floor again after missing 25 games. Jamal Crawford returned to the lineup this past Saturday in a home win against the Sacramento Kings. Forward Danny Granger still remains out – missing seven games due to a hamstring injury, though Granger is projected to return for the playoffs.
But while most teams are looking to shorten their rotation heading into the post-season, head coach Doc Rivers is waiting on the injury bug to vacate his club in the interest of expanding it. At full health, the Clippers sport a 10-man rotation with a variety of lineups and uses that’ll cause major matchup problems in the playoffs.
The most apparent difference in Doc Rivers’ regime versus the Clippers under Vinny Del Negro is the rotation. Del Negro favored platoon swaps while Doc’s rotations seek to take advantage of various matchups. A player substitution method focused on always having the competitive edge at each position creates consistent matchup problems for the Clippers opposition. For less playoff-experienced coaches, it exposes shortcomings the regular season can hide.
The Clippers have a variety of different looks too. Teams can plan for Redick’s contributions from behind the arc, Collison’s ability to push the tempo and keep the second-unit playing at an optimum pace, in addition to Jamal Crawford’s ability to take over an offense and put up big numbers off the bench, but there are some overlooked x-factors that’ll push the Clippers over the top. Some of them well-known and others overlooked.
First, there’s no possible way to prepare for a matchup against Chris Paul. Paul’s strength lies in the fact that he not only does everything, but he does it exceptionally well. He’s averaging 19 points and 11 assists on the season while collecting two and a half steals a game. The league’s best point guard has an uncanny ability to knife through a defense, creating mismatches on the fly. Since the Clippers have proved they’re capable of winning at a high rate without him on the floor, adding Paul to the mix gives veteran teams a headache and younger squads a nightmare.
With the emergence of Blake Griffin’s game, the Clippers are a different beast altogether. He’s shooting 43 percent between 10-to-14 feet, and 38.7 percent from 20-to-24 feet The threat of an outside shot makes a less predictable pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop situation with Chris Paul and with Griffin’s passing ability, guys like Redick, Crawford, Granger and Collison (who’s shooting 39 percent from three) will get good looks.
DeAndre Jordan has shown flashes of dominance as well. He’s averaging a career-high 10.4 points on the season and when he’s going defensively, the Clippers have a streaky fast-paced first unit that’s shooting 47.4 percent and averages 35.2 assists. Jordan also leads the league in field goal percentage (.674) and rebounding (13.8), and is third in blocks (2.46). Although his free-throw shooting hasn’t improved much, Doc’s confidence in Jordan at the end-stretch of games will be imperative for the Clippers’ success. His defensive presence outweighs the possible hack-a-DeAndre consequences and with the Clippers ability to make up points in a short span of time, it won’t be an issue.
Another x-factor is Danny Granger. Rivers has been vocal about his potential in the post and Granger gives the Clippers just that. Granger is putting up 8 points per game for the Clippers in 16 minutes of action in 12 games played. It’s fair to say he’s still being acclimated into the Clippers system. Upon his return, his minutes will most likely increase to 20 per game and the Clippers will have another solid defensive body to who can defend the three and four positions at will.
The Clippers have enough depth and talent to win it all right now. With health on their side for the duration of the post-season and all players completely acclimated into Rivers’ game plan, they’re the most dangerous squad out west.