L.A. Clippers' Biggest Advantage over Each Western Conference Playoff Contender
Jockeying for playoff position late in the regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers are in pursuit of their first Pacific Division title in franchise history.
While locking up a top-four seed will be critical to the Clips’ success, bracketology will also be key down the stretch.
After racing out to a blistering start and taking down contender after contender, Lob City has begun to struggle against some of the West’s best.
What edge do the Clips have over the other conference contenders? Which Clippers should we expect to breakout against the West’s top teams?
Statistics accurate as of March 5, 2013.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Clippers’ record against the Rockets: 2-0
Remaining games against the Rockets: Saturday, March 30
Advantage over the Rockets: Ball-hawking perimeter defense
But for the most part, both Lin and Harden have struggled against the Clippers.
In five games against Los Angeles over the last two seasons, Harden has averaged just 17.3 PPG on 37.8-percent shooting from the field. Lin has also had his problems, averaging just 13.0 PPG on 43.5-percent shooting in two games against LAC this season.
The Rockets’ offense stems from their backcourt. Limiting their abilities on the wing is one of the Clippers’ big advantages over Houston.
Golden State Warriors
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Clippers’ record against the Warriors: 1-3
Remaining games against the Warriors: None
Advantage over the Warriors: Playoff experience
Breakdown: The Golden State Warriors have zero combined games of playoff experience among their young starters.
Although the Los Angeles Clippers have made it to the postseason just once in the last five years, much of the team has enjoyed deep playoff runs.
Los Angeles proved its mettle last season, coming back from one of the largest deficits in playoff history in its incredible Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. LAC followed that up by stealing Game 7 on the road.
On the Clippers’ roster, the team has four players with a combined five championship rings. The veteran leadership keeps the team from ever getting too high or too low.
With a possible first-round matchup against the Warriors looming, the Clippers will rely on their veteran savvy and stable recipe of Blake Griffin-Chris Paul pick-and-rolls to cool the Dubs.
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Clippers’ record against the Nuggets: 1-1
Remaining games against the Nuggets: Thursday, March 7
Advantage over the Nuggets: Pace
Breakdown: The Denver Nuggets thrive by pushing the pace, turning routine contests into enervating track meets.
The Nuggets' blistering pace has them scoring an incredible 105.7 PPG, good for third-best in the NBA.
Playing against Los Angeles has limited Denver’s scoring opportunities, however.
In two games against Lob City this year, Denver is scoring an average of 96.0 PPG, a full 8.5 PPG below their season average, per NBA.com.
Chris Paul is a maestro of dictating pace, preferring to exploit the Nuggets in the half-court, rather than engage in full-court sprints for 48 minutes.
LAC has done a nice job of controlling the clock, holding Denver to an average of 81 field-goal attempts per game, 4.4 shots-per-game below its season average.
If the Clippers are to square off with the Nuggets this postseason, then they will need to set the pace of the game and refrain from getting in a race with their opponents.
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Clippers’ record against the Grizzlies: 0-2
Remaining games against the Grizzlies: Wednesday, March 13; Saturday, April 13
Advantage over the Grizzlies: Psychological edge
Breakdown: Over the last two seasons, the Clippers have gone a sterling 8-3 against the Memphis Grizzlies, including a first-round upset in 2012.
Last season, the Clippers not only won an emotional Game 1, but also took Game 7 on the road.
This season, Los Angeles has won its first two matchups against the Grizzlies, including a rout on the road without Chris Paul
The recent success that Los Angeles has enjoyed over Memphis has to have taken its toll on the Grizz.
Memphis has the second-best defensive rating in the NBA at 97.2, and holds opponents to an average of just 44.0 percent from the field, per NBA.com.
Against the Clippers, the grit-n'-grind Grizzlies are giving up an average of 100.0 PPG on 48.7-percent shooting from the field. Memphis’ defensive rating is 105.4 against Lob City’s high-octane offense, per NBA.com.
Although it is unlikely that these two teams will play each other this postseason, the two are jockeying for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Defeating Memphis in their final two contests will be key for Los Angeles.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Clippers’ record against the Thunder: 0-3
Remaining games against the Thunder: None
Advantage over the Thunder: Depth
Breakdown: The Oklahoma City Thunder is the only team in the Western Conference the Clippers have not defeated this season.
In their three matchups, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have been too much for the Clips to handle. This season Westbrook and Durant are averaging 60.0 PPG combined on 46.7-percent shooting against LAC.
The Thunder have the scoring power and athleticism to compete with the Clippers, and they have caused significant matchup problems for Los Angeles on the wing.
Where the Clippers best the Thunder, however, is with their depth.
The Clippers, on the other hand, have proven that they are capable of playing at least 10 guys in significant minutes. As the playoffs tend to yield shorter rotations, this advantage may be rendered obsolete.
Barring a first-round upset or a change at the top of the conference, the Clippers and the Thunder will likely matchup in the second round.
The Clippers would be wise to use their depth to their advantage. Coach Del Negro should consider giving more versatile players like Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe heavier minutes in order to disrupt the potency of Durant and Westbrook.
San Antonio Spurs
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Clippers’ record against the Spurs: 2-1
Remaining games against the Spurs: Friday, March 29
Advantage over the Spurs: Athleticism
Breakdown: The age-defying San Antonio Spurs again sit atop the Western Conference standings, holding off the surging Clippers and Thunder.
A four-game sweep over the Clippers last postseason proved that the Spurs are capable of handling Lob City’s stellar offense.
This season has been different, however.
The Clippers have won two of the first three matchups against the Spurs this season, riding their athleticism and interior dominance to success.
In those two wins, the Clippers bullied San Antonio inside, outscoring the silver-and-black in the paint 110 to 68. Despite his defensive renaissance, Tim Duncan is nowhere near as athletic as the Clippers’ dunking duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Where the Spurs truly best the Clippers is with their machine-like precision. This team has been around long enough to exploit the Clippers’ weaknesses and make the right adjustments when necessary.
Perhaps the greatest mismatch on the court happens on the sidelines, where Gregg Popovich continually out-duels Vinny Del Negro.
The Spurs pose a difficult matchup for the Clippers, but LAC’s two victories against San Antonio this season are encouraging. Their final regular-season matchup in April will be a key measuring stick for the Clippers heading into the postseason.