The Los Angeles Clippers have had their shares of ups and downs this season, but with the playoffs nearing, the focus begins to turn towards who the Clippers might play and what the matchups might look like.
There looks to be seven solid teams among the eight playoff seeds in the Western Conference. All seven pose a unique challenge to the Clippers, especially in a seven-game series. The eighth spot is up for grabs between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers, but we will let them decide it on the court before discussing them any further.
Much like the rest of the league, the Los Angeles Clippers have struggled to slow down Kevin Durant. The Clippers have surrendered 102 points to the All-Star forward, fourth most of any team in the league this season.
Despite the perimeter depth on the Clippers, Durant is either too long or quick for anyone who attempts to guard him. Slowing Durant down requires a total team effort. The help defenders need to react quickly and anticipate Durant’s drive to the basket by cutting off the lane immediately.
Finally, every shot KD takes needs to be contested. Because of Russell Westbrook's presence, that is easier said than done, but allowing a shooting like Durant open looks from the perimeter is a recipe for disaster.
The San Antonio Spurs have given teams fits for over a decade, thanks to Gregg Popovich’s floor spacing in his offense. The Spurs spread teams out better than anyone in the league and are able to capitalize by exposing a lazy defense.
The problem for the Los Angeles Clippers revolves around Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan making proper defensive rotations. Neither player is a particularly strong defender, and neither has yet shown the focus needed to quickly make the proper rotation to cutoff easy looks at the basket.
San Antonio is able to move the ball quickly from side to side, breaking down the Clippers’ defensive shell which allows players like Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Manu Ginobili to fire away from three.
More so than any other team in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies have exposed the Los Angeles Clippers’ biggest weakness: rebounding.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have given the Clippers fits on the offensive and defensive boards. Think back to last season’s epic playoff series. Memphis was able to outrebound the Clippers in five of the seven games.
Second chance points and limiting teams to one shot per possession is the most effective way to control a game, especially against a team with the ability to run and finish like the Clippers.
Memphis does both as well as any team in the league.
Masai Ujiri, the Denver Nuggets’ general manager, has done an excellent job building the Nuggets into one of the deepest teams in the league. Typically, the Los Angeles Clippers are able to put a stranglehold on teams via their deep bench.
But not Denver.
The Nuggets can legitimately match the Clippers bench. According to hoopdata, Denver is third in the league in bench scoring, slightly behind the Clippers.
Additionally, Denver’s bench is just as athletic as the Clippers’. George Karl likes to play at a fast pace, which plays to the Clippers’ attacking style. However, when a game’s pace is that fast, more mistakes tend to be made, especially on defense. This gives Denver a way to combat Chris Paul’s effectiveness in the half court and expose the average defense of the Clippers' big men.
All season long the Golden State Warriors have lit up opposing defenses from the perimeter. They lead the league in three-point shooting percentage at 39.4 percent, and one of the teams they have consistently torched from downtown are the Los Angeles Clippers.
Much like the problem the Spurs create for the Clippers, Golden State spreads the floor so well that it makes them very difficult to defend. Steph Curry’s ability to breakdown a defense and connect from distance makes the Warriors a difficult matchup for the Clippers.
Plus, David Lee’s rebounding on the interior provides extra possessions for the Warriors. Should Andrew Bogut ever get healthy, he would make the Warriors even more a nightmare matchup for L.A.
Jeremy Lin and James Harden both thrive by attacking off the dribble and that could give the Los Angeles Clippers problems in the playoffs. The Clippers’ shooting guards are not known for their defensive prowess. That leaves Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, both point guards, as the two most effective defensive guards.
James Harden will be a difficult matchup for Los Angeles, mainly because of his size and ability to get anywhere on the floor, anytime. Vinny Del Negro will have to decide if he wants to play Bledsoe and Paul together, with Bledsoe attempting to limit Harden, or if he wants to take his chances with Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups and Matt Barnes.
Either way, Houston will be able to apply plenty of pressure on the Clippers defense thanks to the aggressiveness of Harden and Lin.