5 LA Clippers Weaknesses to Exploit in the NBA Playoffs

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IApril 16, 2014

5 LA Clippers Weaknesses to Exploit in the NBA Playoffs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unlike in past seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers don't have a lot of glaring flaws. This is one of the most talented rosters in the league, directed by one of the best coaches in the league. 

    But every team, no matter how productive, has its weak spots. The Clippers are no exception to this, even though they've proven to be consistently dominant over the course of the season, despite some pretty important injuries.

    As Kate Fagan of espnW.com explains, that's in large part because of Doc Rivers paying attention to the smaller details:

    Most fans assume that if the Clips are going to avoid bowing out in the first round of the playoffs again and make a deep run, they'll need [Chris] Paul and power forward Blake Griffin to be superhero versions of themselves: more dimes, more dunks, more dominance. But what they'll really need, Rivers believes, is more trust. And the coach is steadily building it, hoping his players will see his constant tiny adjustments not as an irritation but as a path to an NBA title.

    While Rivers will do his best to account for everything, here are five weaknesses opposing teams may be able to exploit in the playoffs.

Free-Throw Shooting

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    Perhaps the biggest problem area that sticks out with the Los Angeles Clippers is their poor free-throw shooting. The Clippers rank 26th in the league in free-throw percentage, which obviously leaves a lot to be desired.

    It's not hard to find the culprit on the roster. Chris Paul, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick all shoot over 85 percent from the line, but DeAndre Jordan is shooting 43.4 percent, which is actually an improvement. Blake Griffin is up to 71 percent from the line as well, so it could certainly be worse.

    Although it hasn't hurt the Clippers much this year, as they have the first-ranked offense in efficiency, according to Basketball-Reference.com, it could potentially factor in. Coaches like Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors haven't been afraid to use the "Hack-a-DeAndre" technique in the past, and you can bet the Jordan will be tested in the postseason.

    While the effectiveness of that strategy is vastly overrated, it could be a weapon if Rivers panics. Last year, Jordan played in only 30 of a possible 82 fourth quarters because Vinny Del Negro didn't trust him, but that doesn't sound like it's a problem with Rivers. 

    Here's what Jordan told Sam Amick of USA Today:

    He believes in his players, and it's not like it's just something he's saying," Jordan told USA TODAY Sports about Rivers. "He really believes it. He just puts that confidence in not only me but everybody here. That's huge, when not only you believe in yourself but your teammates believe in you and it comes from the top. And he's a Hall of Fame coach, and he believes in me, so that just takes your game to a whole new level.

    The Clippers will leave some points on the board, but unless Jordan completely falls apart, Rivers panics or Griffin suffers a relapse, this likely won't be as big of a weakness as it was in last year's postseason.

Frontcourt Depth

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    Probably the biggest issue for the Clippers this season has been the play of their bench, particularly in the frontcourt. 

    While the acquisition of Glen Davis has helped a bit, it hasn't had quite the effect the Clippers have probably hoped for. Davis is a wide body who can score a bit, set big screens and eat space, but he doesn't help protect the rim or defend his own position particularly well.

    That's an issue, particularly if Blake Griffin gets in foul trouble once again, as he has a history of doing in the postseason. Davis could be called on nice and early, and it's hard to say his regular-season performance has provided much confidence that he'll be able to fill a more substantial role.

    While many teams would be in trouble if they lost one of their best players, the Clippers simply can't afford to lose Griffin or Jordan, even if it's just for a quarter or half of a game. Chris Paul could carry much of the load offensively, but defensively, the Clippers would have a hard time depending on Davis, Ryan Hollins, Hedo Turkoglu and others to step in and solidify things.

    The Clippers are a team that's very dependent on how the game is called. If a team can get to the Clippers bench early, they're significantly less dangerous.

Defensive Rebounding

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    It's a little surprising how poor of a rebounding team the Clippers are, particularly since DeAndre Jordan leads the league in rebounds per game and Blake Griffin is plenty capable.

    The problem isn't really up front, even if there are the occasional mixed box-outs. Instead, it's the inability of the team's wings and guards to really pinch down and help out.

    J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley have all been awful on the glass this season, but at least some of it is by design. The Clippers have traded off allowing offensive rebounds to get out on the break with more frequency and to close out on three-point shooters without hesitation.

    The stats reflect as much. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Clippers are 26th in defensive rebounding percentage, but seventh in pace and first in opponent three-point percentage.  

    Still, with that being said, teams that really crash the offensive boards can get multiple opportunities against the Clippers defense. There's a reason why the Memphis Grizzlies always seem to play the Clippers so tough, and the extra opportunities on the glass are a big part of that.

Defenseless Wings

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    The Clippers as a team have improved greatly on the defensive end, as there is an actual scheme in place now. The Clippers are a respectable ninth in defensive efficiency, according to Basketball-Reference.com, which is good enough to make a title run.

    While a solid scheme and game plan can do a lot, the Clippers will still be outmatched physically on many nights defensively. Depending on matchups, teams will be able to exploit a few key advantages, particularly when slight-of-frame guys like Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford are out there on the wing.

    Although they're a rarity, wings capable of posting up, such as Portland Trail Blazers guard Wes Matthews, can give the Clippers some problems. More importantly, slashing wings who can get to the basket usually don't have much standing in their way until they get to Jordan at the rim. 

    The Clippers as a team have defended well, but wing scorers can go off rather easily and put up big individual numbers. Rivers accepts that in order to add more shooting on the other end, but it could come back to bite the Clips when important stops are needed or if something happens to Matt Barnes. Essentially, he's functioning as the team's only plus wing defender.

    With a second-round matchup looming against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, this could be the greatest weakness to exploit.

Three-Point Shooting

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    The Clippers are a very interesting offensive team. For the most part, they're built on getting wide-open shots and easy chances at the rim, which obviously isn't a bad strategy. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both brilliant creators, and there's a reason why this has been the league's most efficient offense. 

    While the offense overall is the last thing the Clippers need to worry about with Paul running the show, there might be some concerns about the three-point shooting of the entire roster.

    The Clippers are 20th in the league in three-point shooting percentage this season, which is a little troubling given the quality of the looks that are being created. The Clippers are getting just average production in that category from their small forwards (Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley), which has led Rivers to play more three-guard lineups when Barnes is out of the game.

    Jamal Crawford is probably the team's biggest threat, but he's a little streaky. J.J. Redick being fully healthy should help a ton, but the fact remains that percentage-wise, the Clippers were below-average this season.

    Limiting the quantity of looks might be a good way for opponents to slow down this offensive machine. This year, when the Clippers make nine three-pointers or more, they are 35-1. If teams can chase the wings off the line and make them try to score at the rim, they'll have a much better chance at success.

    Here's the formula: Get the bigs in foul trouble, pound the offensive glass for extra possessions, isolate and attack the weak links on the wing and make anyone not named Chris Paul or Blake Griffin beat you with penetration at the rim. 

    That's obviously much easier said than done, but we'll see if any team can execute that plan this offseason.