In a struggle for the top seed in the Western Conference, bracketology could mean everything for the Los Angeles Clippers come playoff time.
The ultra-competitive Western Conference is as strong as ever, and advancing past the first round is no guarantee.
Unlike years past, the Clippers look like legitimate contenders, capable of competing with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs for a conference title. However, as seeding begins to take shape over the next couple months, the Clips might be wise to try to avoid some teams and matchup with some others.
Here are the best and worst case playoff opponents for the Clippers, beginning with the worst and moving to the best.
Statistics used in this article were accurate as of January 30th, 2013.
Record against the Spurs this season: 2-0
Record against the Spurs in the Chris Paul era (including playoffs): 3-6
Breakdown: The poise and discipline of the well-oiled machine that is the San Antonio Spurs has always given the Clippers fits.
The Spurs rely on a balanced attack of high efficient offense and continuous ball movement to bait defenses into poor decisions and convert easy baskets. The age-defying core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili continues to be one of the most dominant in the league, thriving on team chemistry and sound team defense.
As of late, the Clippers have played the Spurs well, including a rout at home and a gutsy victory on the road. Nevertheless, the Spurs are built for the postseason, and their evisceration of the Clips last spring is just a reminder of what Coach Popovich’s team is capable of.
If the Clippers want to avoid the Spurs until the Conference Finals, then they would be wise to start racking up those victories and finish with the No. 1 seed in order to delay a potential date with San Antonio.
Record against the Thunder this season: 0-2
Record against the Thunder in the Chris Paul era: 3-3
Breakdown: The Clippers appear to be one of the only team’s in the conference capable of matching up with the length and athleticism of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Clippers have played the Thunder well since Chris Paul came to Los Angeles, even winning the season series 3-1 against the defending conference champs last year.
This season, Lob City has not been so fortunate.
In their first trip to Loud City earlier this year, the Clips endured an awful game from CP3, and still had a chance to win in regulation before falling to the Thunder 117-111 in overtime.
Despite Lob City’s past success, OKC is the frontrunner to represent the West in the NBA Finals.
The ideal scenario for the Clippers: lock up the No. 1 seed and avoid the Thunder or Spurs for as long as possible.
Much easier said than done.
Record against the Lakers this season: 2-0
Record against the Lakers in the Chris Paul era: 3-2
Breakdown: Perhaps it is the fear of big brother, the four future Hall of Famers, or seven potential Laker “home” games. Whatever it is, the Clips should hope to avoid a matchup with their Staples Center co-tenants this postseason.
The disparity between the Lakers’ home and road records is also revealing. The Lakers are 15-10 at home compared to just 5-16 on the road.
As a bottom seed-- presuming the Lakers are even capable of sneaking into the playoffs-- they will need to win on the road to advance.
Despite the success of L.A.’s other team this season, there is no question that Los Angeles is still a Lakers’ city. Appropriately, the Clips should be weary of playing a series in an arena full of purple and gold.
Record against the Warriors this season: 1-3
Record against the Warriors in the Chris Paul era: 3-5
Breakdown: Two of the Clippers major deficiencies are their poor three-point shooting defense and inability to slow teams on the offensive glass.
The Clips three losses to the Golden State Warriors this season have brought to light some of Lob City’s biggest issues.
In the losses, the Clippers allowed the Warriors to grab 35 offensive rebounds, an average of 11.7 per game. The Clips also failed to defend the three-point line, allowing the Dubs to shoot a scorching average of 45.9 percent from long range, including an unconscious six for eight from Steph Curry.
The Clippers dominant home win of the Warriors was much more telling of what Lob City is capable of.
In a 115-89 rout of Golden State, the Clippers limited the Warriors to just five offensive boards, while holding the Dubs to just 25.0 percent shooting from distance.
While most would take LAC in a seven game series against their Pacific Division rivals, the Warriors success against the Clips this season, combined with a healthy Andrew Bogut and a raucous Oracle Arena, could spell trouble come playoff time.
Record against the Nuggets this season: 1-1
Record against the Nuggets in the Chris Paul era: 4-2
Breakdown: Since coming to Los Angeles, Chris Paul and the Clippers have enjoyed a fair amount of success against the Denver Nuggets.
The Clips have bruised Denver inside with Blake Griffin, and rode the brilliance of Chris Paul down the stretch.
With no real superstar, Denver has been unable to hang with the Clippers in crunch time, losing three of the four games to the Chris Paul Clippers by less than ten points.
While a first round matchup with the Nuggets could pose a threat, it is one of the better matchups out there for Lob City.
Record against the Mavericks this season: 2-0
Record against the Mavericks in the Chris Paul era: 4-1
Breakdown: Since winning a championship just two seasons ago, the Dallas Mavericks have become just a shell of their title team.
A backcourt of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo is enticing, but it is nothing compared to the Clippers’ healthy backcourt of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. In the interior, the Mavs lack the length and athleticism to contain Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan.
Any team with Dirk Nowitzki should still be considered a threat. This season, however, the Mavs look especially vulnerable, and could become first round road kill should they make the playoffs and matchup with LAC.
Record against the Trail Blazers this season: 2-1
Record against the Trail Blazers in the Chris Paul era: 5-2
Yet as it stands now, the Blazers will be lucky to make the playoffs and should be quickly defeated by one of the West’s elite should they manage to get out of the lottery.
Portland has given the Clips some challenges, however. In the first episode of a regular season home-and-home series, the Blazers blew a double-digit lead before clawing back to knock of the Clippers 101-100 at the Rose Garden.
The game exposed a lot of the Clips’ weaknesses, as they allowed Portland to shoot 44.0 percent from downtown and made J.J. Hickson look like Karl Malone.
Still, the youth of the Blazers should be pivotal as the season progresses, and making the playoffs is no guarantee for the young team.
The Clippers could end up with a very favorable matchup if they draw Portland in the first round.
Record against the Jazz this season: 3-0
Record against the Jazz in the Chris Paul era: 5-1
Breakdown: The Utah Jazz drew the unfavorable distinction of playing the Clippers three times during Lob City’s undefeated December.
Since coming to Los Angeles, Chris Paul has been the kryptonite to a Jazz team that has forever had the Clippers’ number.
Utah has neither the firepower nor the depth to contend with the Clippers.
This season the Clippers’ three victories over the Jazz featured a different Clipper leading the way in scoring in each game.
Record against the Rockets this season: 1-0
Record against the Rockets in the Chris Paul era: 4-0
Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin make the Rockets a formidable opponent, but they certainly do not have the firepower or the depth to compete with a team as dominant as the Clippers.
The Clippers record against the Rockets in the Chris Paul era speaks for itself. The win in Houston this season also came without Paul in the lineup, only reinforcing the strength of LAC’s ultra-deep bench.
Record against the Grizzlies this season: 2-0
Record against the Grizzlies in the Chris Paul era (including playoffs): 8-4
Breakdown: Barring a major injury or letdown by either team, these two teams would not square off until at least the Western Conference semifinals.
For this reason precisely, the Clippers have to be conscience of bracketology come April.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been locked into the No. 4 seed for the majority of the season, as the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
The Clippers have dominated Memphis this season, winning a slugfest at home in the season opener, and posting a dominant 26-point victory on the road without Chris Paul.
After a grueling seven game series last postseason that saw the Clippers win arguably the greatest comeback in playoff history and hold on for a Game 7 win on the road, the Grizzlies have to be trying to avoid LAC in the playoffs.
The Clippers would love a potential second round date with the Grizzlies this postseason, making the No. 1 seed all the more desirable.