Ranking the Potential First-Round Opponents of the L.A. Clippers
After a blistering start to the regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers have faltered of late, falling to No. 4 in the cartoonishly competitive Western Conference.
Despite having won 10 of their last 14 games, the Clips have really struggled against the West’s best.
Among the Clippers’ last four losses include a home blowout at the hands of the No. 1 San Antonio Spurs, and a heartbreaker at home to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. More recently, the Clippers were handily defeated on the road against the Denver Nuggets and looked disconnected and full of flaws in a home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
A team that had aspirations of finishing with a Pacific Division title and a top-three seed in the conference might now be lucky to finish in the Top Four, as the surging Grizzlies and Nuggets are displaying no signs of slowing up.
Despite the theatrics and exciting brand of basketball, Lob City has a pedestrian 6-10 record against the other Top Five teams in the conference. Starting the playoffs on the road against either Denver or Memphis could be detrimental.
Who provides the best matchups for the Clippers in the first round? Who should LAC hope to avoid in the postseason?
We will break down Lob City’s potential first-round opponents from most desired to least desired.
6) Utah Jazz
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Clippers’ record against the Jazz: 4-0
The Jazz routinely dominated the Clippers until Chris Paul laced up in red, white and blue. This season, the Clippers won all four contests against Utah.
Los Angeles proved to be too quick and too offensively sound for Utah to contain. The Jazz had the misfortune of falling to the Clippers three times during Lob City’s undefeated December.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, the Jazz are likely to finish with the No. 8 spot if they even make the playoffs. The Clips will have to leapfrog the Grizzlies, the Thunder and the Spurs in miracle fashion to lock up the No. 1 seed and a potential first-round date with Utah.
As great as it would be to draw the Jazz in the first round, it is unlikely that these two squads will meet again this spring.
5) Houston Rockets
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Clippers’ record against the Rockets: 2-0
Although the Clippers’ porous three-point defense could be catastrophic against the team that chucks up more long balls than any other in the league, Lob City has been able to impose its will on Houston.
The Rockets will likely land in the No. 6 or No. 7 spot in the Western Conference. The Clips will need to snag at least the No. 3 seed if they hope to matchup with Houston in the first round.
4) Golden State Warriors
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Clippers' record against the Warriors: 1-3
Breakdown: Although the Clippers dropped three out of four games to the Golden State Warriors this season, Lob City has to like its chances against the Dubs in the postseason.
The Warriors have zero playoff appearances combined from their starting lineup. With Chris Paul healthy, Golden State does not have any backcourt stopper that can come close to containing the All-NBA point guard.
Where the Clips could suffer against Golden State is behind the arc. Stephen Curry is shooting an unconscious 53.6 percent from downtown in four games against Lob City this season.
While the Warriors enjoy a nice home-court advantage at Oracle Arena, it is hard to see such a young team stealing a game at Staples Center.
3) Memphis Grizzlies
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Clippers’ record against the Grizzlies: 2-1
Breakdown: Dating back to last postseason, the Clippers have won five of their last eight matchups with rival Memphis Grizzlies.
In those wins, Chris Paul has been nearly unstoppable willing the Clips to victory.
Unlike a more cerebral style of play like the San Antonio Spurs, the Grizzlies’ physical method stacks up well against the Clips’ hyper-athletic personnel.
The Clippers really struggle to defend the three-point line, allowing teams to knock down 37.6 percent of their shots from distance, the second worst out of Western Conference playoff teams, per NBA.com.
Lucky for the Clips, the Grizz shoot the worst from downtown out of any conference playoff team, converting just 34.7 percent of their attempts.
The Clippers have proven that they are capable of hanging with the Grizzlies; they knocked out Memphis in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Although the Clips would like to play a lesser opponent in this year’s first round, Memphis would be the most desirable of the West’s upper echelon.
2) Los Angeles Lakers
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Clippers’ record against the Lakers: 3-0
Breakdown: Chalk it up to fear of big brother or the scariest bottom seed in NBA history, but the Clippers might wish to avoid a first-round matchup against their Staples Center co-tenants.
With Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant healthy, the Los Angeles Lakers have been on a tear since the All-Star break, going 9-3 in that span. Bryant’s ankle sprain against the Atlanta Hawks complicates things, but if the Lake Show makes it to the postseason, then they will not be an easy out, especially with the return of Pau Gasol.
Kobe’s Lakers have not lost in the first round since 2007.
The Lakers are 22-11 at home as opposed to just 12-21 on the road this year. A first round matchup with the Clippers would ensure up to seven games at Staples Center, with majority Lakers fans in attendance.
While the Clippers have proven that they can compete with the Lakers by winning the first three games of the Battle of L.A., Lob City would be wise to avoid a playoff showdown with the purple and gold.
1) Denver Nuggets
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Clippers’ record against the Nuggets: 2-1
Breakdown: The Denver Nuggets pose some serious problems for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Denver gets up and down the court, playing at a pace of 97.75, the second highest in the league, per NBA.com.
Easy scoring opportunities have greatly benefited the Nuggets, as they have the third-best offensive rating in basketball at 107.7, per NBA.com.
Playing in the high altitude at the Pepsi Center, the Nuggets are nearly unbeatable, with the best record in the conference at 29-3.
Where the Nuggets struggle is on the road, where they are just 15-19, the only Top Five team in the conference with a sub-.500 record.
If the Clippers are unfortunate enough to matchup with Denver in the first round, they should hope that they have home-court advantage. Starting a playoff series on the road in Denver could lead to an early playoff exit for the Clippers.