The Los Angeles Clippers look formidable this season—perhaps more so than any other season in recent memory. This can obviously be attributed to the fantastic seasons Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are having, but it runs deeper than that. The team has excellent guard depth, can score in bundles and finally has the ability to score in the half court.
Still, there is plenty left to work on before the playoffs begin. Doc Rivers was brought in to lead from the sidelines and hold players accountable. While he has accomplished both, there are a few areas that need to be addressed, and the earlier the better.
The clock is ticking, but there are three things the Clippers must do before the playoffs begin. The good news is that they are all attainable. Reaching the following three goals would put the Clippers in fantastic shape to win the Western Conference.
Improve the Defense
The Clippers currently sit 11th in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. However, dig a little more and things get a bit uglier. In the last 30 days, the Clippers defense has been pathetic, giving up 106.2 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 23rd in the entire league.
Sure, missing Chris Paul for a month impacted their defense, but that is downright ugly.
The perimeter defense has been lousy; teams are attacking off the dribble and getting into the paint far too easily. It does not help that Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison have been the primary lead guards because both are, at best, average defenders.
Due to the guards’ defensive limitations, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have been under copious amounts of pressure to protect the rim. Although they have been improving as defenders, they have not proved they are capable of defending 48 minutes of defensive breakdowns by attacking guards and wings.
Another reason the defense has been hot and cold this season is because the team lacks a long, athletic defensive forward.
Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes have attempted to guard players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and James Harden, all season to no avail. The Clippers have been abused continually by aggressive wings, and that is unlikely to change without the ability of the guards to stop penetration on the perimeter.
This is why Paul’s return is so important. Sure his offensive abilities make him irreplaceable, but his lateral quickness and threat to jump passing lanes helps contain opposing team’s penetration. Paul’s presence allows Jordan to call out rotations and slide the defense, because there is less dribble penetration to collapse the defense.
Solidify a Frontcourt Rotation
The frontcourt has been a drastic concern for the Clippers all season long, but that might be changing. Although the trade deadline passed and the Clippers did not add any help via trade, they are in position to improve their depth up front. Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens were jettisoned in order to open up two roster spots.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears, the Clippers have filled one of those spots already:
Glen Davis has given Clippers word he is signing, a source told Yahoo.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 23, 2014
The signing of Glen Davis finally provides the Clippers with a legitimate backup for Griffin. Davis was having a solid season with the Orlando Magic, averaging 12.1 points per game and grabbing 6.3 rebounds. The Clippers certainly are not lacking offensive firepower, but Davis will help the bench score.
Additionally, Davis is familiar with Rivers’ defensive system, as the coach mentioned to ESPN Los Angeles’ Arash Markazi:
"It's not official yet but hopefully it will be, Rivers said Sunday. It gives us another big and what I like about a guy like that is he can play a five with a four. If we got a guy like that, he also knows my system."
The next step will be for Rivers to find another center to split time with Ryan Hollins, behind Jordan. The team desperately needs rim protection and a guy who can defend bigger centers in case Jordan gets in foul trouble. Expect Rivers to take his time and see who is bought out before the March 1 deadline for players to be eligible for playoff rosters.
Earn the No. 2 Seed
The final goal the Clippers need to reach before the end of the season is to catch the San Antonio Spurs and earn the No. 2 seed in the conference. The Western Conference playoffs are sure to be exciting and highly dramatic. There are too many good teams in the conference for the playoffs to unfold any other way.
Will LA Clippers Finish With the No. 2 Seed?
The depth of the conference is one reason why the Clippers need to lock the No. 2 seed down. The other reason is avoiding the Oklahoma City Thunder as long as possible. There is no guarantee that the Clippers, nor the Thunder, will even make it to the conference finals, but it sure would be nice for both teams to avoid one another as long as possible.
Additionally, the Clippers could greatly benefit from having home-court advantage in the first two rounds. The Clippers experienced firsthand in 2012 just how difficult it is to win on the road during a Game 7. They surely would love to have that advantage on their side this season, regardless of who they play.