The entire Western Conference playoff picture looks to be an absolute dogfight, but the Warriors are one of the few teams that play the Clips particularly well. The two split their season series this year.
Should the Clips achieve their goal of an NBA championship, then they will have to beat some combination of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs and/or the Houston Rockets. As such, the Clippers cannot overlook their division rivals in the first round.
Before breaking down everything to look forward to in the playoffs, let’s review a few things from the regular season.
Final Regular-Season Record: 57-25
Playoff Seed: No. 3 in Western Conference
First-Round Opponent: Golden State Warriors (51-31), sixth place in Western Conference
Top Three Storylines Going Into the Playoffs
1) Live and Die by the Three
This first-round matchup puts one of the league’s most three-point dependent teams against the league’s best three-point defense.
Led by the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Dubs convert 38 percent of their long balls, the fourth-highest mark in the league. Their 2,037 attempts were the sixth-most in basketball.
Alternatively, Lob City has the league’s best three-point defense. As part of Doc Rivers’ strong-side scheme, Lob City has limited opponents to just 33.2 percent of their threes.
With the two teams set for what should be an entertaining first-round matchup, the three-point line could play key role in determining a winner.
2) Is everyone ready for the postseason?
Even though every Clipper is healthy, Los Angeles has had little time to experiment with different lineups. J.J. Redick missed 35 games, Chris Paul missed 20, Matt Barnes missed 19 and Jamal Crawford missed 13. The only constants on the floor were Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Now that the playoffs are here, the Clips do not really have time to experiment with lineups. With no back-to-backs, we can expect to see plenty of Redick.
Still, the prospect of little adjustment time has to be daunting against such a loaded Warriors squad.
3) What does the absence of Andrew Bogut mean for Lob City?
With Warriors center Andrew Bogut out indefinitely, the Clippers will have a serious advantage inside the paint.
A constant pest for the Clips, Bogut has made a living frustrating Griffin on the block. Griffin’s ejection from the Dubs-Clips Christmas Day matchup was largely a result of Bogut getting under his skin.
With Jermaine O’Neal and Draymond Green set to step into Bogut’s role, the Clippers have a clear advantage inside.
Offensively, Bogut’s mobility and versatility make him a tough matchup as well. He is capable of bringing either Griffin or Jordan out of the paint.
While Green has some range, O’Neal is not one to dominate opponents offensively. The Clippers need to exploit this advantage.
Los Angeles Clippers
Despite back spasms for Redick, a sore calf for Crawford and a hamstring injury for Danny Granger, the Clips expect to have everybody available for their first-round series.
Golden State Warriors
- Andrew Bogut, ribs, roughly six weeks, per NBA.com
- Festus Ezeli, knee, could potentially return in the postseason; was cleared for contact in one-on-one drills this month, per MercuryNews.com
Key First-Round Matchup to Watch: Blake Griffin vs. David Lee
Although there are so many tantalizing matchups in this series, Griffin vs. Lee might be the best.
Whereas Steph Curry and Chris Paul will likely get some looks at each other, both stars can expect to see plenty of bodies thrown at them. Although Lob City has a couple of different looks it can throw at Lee, fans can expect these two power forwards to see plenty of action against each other, especially with Bogut sidelined.
Per NBA.com, Lee defended Griffin for 20 minutes, 57 seconds in the team’s four regular-season matchups. Alternatively, Griffin defended Lee for 27:46.
Despite BG’s clear talent advantage over Lee, their regular-season matchup was a wash, via NBA.com:
|Griffin defending Lee||27:46||3||44%||2||26|
|Lee defending Griffin||20:57||1||38%||5||28|
The Clippers will have trouble with the Warriors if Griffin cannot outperform Lee. Lob City needs its power forward to dominate Lee on the block and from the high post.
J.J. Redick might be the most important Clipper in this series.
Appearing in just 35 games this season, Redick was quietly having his best career year. On the season, the Duke standout put up a career-best 15.2 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field.
Redick's constant movement makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Whether it is coming off multiple screens or curls at the elbow, Redick's movement warps the floor and really opens up the Clippers offense.
Given his silky stroke, Redick forces opposing defenses to place some of their best defenders on him. Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Curry and Thompson should all see some time chasing Redick around the perimeter.
How Redick can perform on offense will be a key indicator of how far the Clips make it in the postseason.
Keys to a First-Round Clippers Victory
In order for Los Angeles to thwart their Bay Area rivals, they will need to control the boards, stymie the three and convert their free throws. Let’s briefly take a look at each component.
1) Rebound Hounds
With all of their length on the interior and in the perimeter, the Warriors lead the Western Conference in defensive rebounds with 34.4 rebounds per game.
The Dubs have seven players that average at least four rebounds per contest. Even with the absence of Bogut, the Warriors still present serious problems on the defensive glass.
Lob City has the league’s rebounding leader in Jordan, but all of the guys on the court will have to box out.
2) Halt the Three
Curry and Thompson are Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in three-point attempts.
Outside of the Splash Brothers, the Warriors’ Steve Blake, Barnes and Iguodala will not hesitate to pull the trigger. Given the Warriors’ evisceration of the Denver Nuggets last postseason, the Clippers need to be cautious, especially with their perimeter defense.
It is inevitable that the Warriors will shoot plenty of threes this postseason, and Thompson and Curry can easily get hot. However, the Clippers cannot get complacent. They need to neutralize the Splash Brothers by forcing them into difficult shots.
Los Angeles should be able to throw the likes of Paul, Crawford, Darren Collison, Granger, Barnes and Jared Dudley at the Warriors’ explosive backcourt.
3) Embracing the Charity Stripe
Converting just 73 percent of their attempts, the Clippers are among the league’s worst free-throw shooting teams.
While Griffin has improved his free-throw shooting significantly, Jordan shot a putrid 42.8 percent from the line this season.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson has not hesitated to intentionally foul Jordan and put him at the line. Against the Dubs, Jordan knocked down just 34.6 percent of his free-throw attempts.
The Deck-a-DJ strategy should be on full display this postseason. Even with his free-throw shooting woes, Jordan needs to be on the floor for Lob City.
How Jordan and the rest of the Clippers perform from the free-throw line could be key in deciding this series.
Other than the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors might present the worst first-round matchup for Los Angeles. The Dubs are long at nearly every position, and it is likely that Thompson and Iguodala will both see time guarding CP3.
The absence of Bogut surely hurts the Warriors, but the Dubs play the Clips especially well. Golden State has won five of the last eight contests against Lob City over the last two seasons.
Los Angeles has not won in Oakland since Christmas Day 2012.
Still, the Clippers are certainly a better team than the Warriors, and they should be able to bounce their division rivals.
However, after Golden State, the road to the Finals does not get any easier.
The Clippers will likely see the Thunder in the second round, starting out on the road. The two teams split their season series, with each team winning a game on the other’s floor.
Barring a major injury or some elevated play, the Clippers would not be favored against OKC.
Should there be a major first-round upset and the Grizzlies defeat the Thunder, then the Clippers would again have their hands full with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizz have won six of their last nine games against LAC dating back to last postseason.
The unfortunate reality of the brutal Western Conference is that only two teams can make the conference finals. Despite their stellar season, the Clips look to be a step behind both the Thunder and the Spurs.
Still, there is plenty to look forward to in Clipper Nation. Lob City has been one of the league’s best teams in the second half of the season. With so many injuries this year, Los Angeles is coming together at the right time.
Golden State will be a tough first-round matchup, and the Clips will have to defeat a series of versatile and explosive foes should they hope to continue their best season in franchise history.