Projecting Los Angeles Clippers' Best and Worst 2015 NBA Playoff Matchups
Matchups will play a key factor in determining how far the Los Angeles Clippers advance this postseason. In previous years, the team struggled against the size of the Memphis Grizzlies (2013) and efficiency of the San Antonio Spurs (2012).
This season is slightly different. Squads such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers are battling injuries, while others like the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies have been dominant. Regardless, all eight franchises that make the playoffs in the West will be formidable.
The Clippers will need to force their opponents to play to their strengths, but they also need a bit of luck. Each team has varying weaknesses, so matchups will be crucial to postseason success.
Best: Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers are plummeting in the standings due to multiple injuries, including a torn Achilles that ended Wesley Matthews' season. Additionally, Nicolas Batum is dinged up, and LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing despite with a torn ligament in his thumb since January 23.
The Clippers' biggest advantage is that Chris Paul has been able to hold Damian Lillard in check during their first three games (15 points per game). Paul seems to play his best against the top point guards in the league.
Through three games this season, the Clippers own at least a series tie with the final game on April 1. While the team has struggled to defend Aldridge (29 points and 10.3 rebounds), the Trail Blazers have had no answer for Paul either (27 points and 11 assists).
Who is going to defend Paul over seven games? Batum typically gets a crack at him late in games, but can he defend him for 20-30 minutes each night? Can Arron Afflalo take on Matthews' role of bothering Paul? Can the Clippers slow down Aldridge, or will his injury do that for them?
Overall, Portland's injuries, inability to defend Paul and slumping defense (12th worst since February) provide a good matchup for an elite offense such as the Clippers.
Worst: Memphis Grizzlies
One of the most impressive teams in the league are the Memphis Grizzlies. They consistently impose their will on opponents. They also have been a thorn in the side of the Clippers for years.
The main reason the Clippers are at a disadvantage against the Grizzlies is because they do not match up well position-wise. Marc Gasol has given DeAndre Jordan fits over the years. His ability to pass and shoot from the elbow pulls Jordan out of the paint.
Meanwhile, Blake Griffin has to battle Zach Randolph on the block and contest him for rebounds. Switch Jordan onto Randolph and Griffin on Gasol, and the two Grizzlies just swap roles. There is no good way to defend them.
The Grizzlies also have the perimeter defense via Mike Conley and Tony Allen to disrupt Paul and J.J. Redick. They can get even more creative and toss Jeff Green on Paul if needed.
Memphis will slow the game down and grind teams out with its third-ranked defense. The Clippers must be disciplined defensively and compete on the glass. Defense and rebounding provide the Clippers their best chance of winning.
This is exactly what happened on February 23 and 27. The Clippers lost by three and won the other game by 18. However, the November 23 matchup went the opposite way. The Grizzlies pulled down 20 more rebounds and shot 49.4 percent from the field.
Advancing past the Grizzlies will take a near-flawless performance from L.A.
Best: Dallas Mavericks
The best matchup the Clippers could hope for would be the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers have already won the season series 2-1, thrashing the Mavericks by a combined 37 points with Griffin healthy.
Dallas flew out of the gates to start the season but slowed down considerably since acquiring Rajon Rondo on December 19. The Mavericks rank 13th in offensive rating since acquiring Rondo, but they were first before the trade.
Despite Tyson Chandler's solid rim protection, the Mavericks are unable to match up with the Clippers' efficient offense. Dirk Nowitzki has problems defending Griffin and certainly can't cover Jordan in the paint.
Rondo could defend Paul adequately, but that leaves Monta Ellis on J.J. Redick, who is having the best year of his career, shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 42.8 from three. While the Clippers bench is not formidable, the Mavericks' is not much better.
Nowitzki would cause problem for the Clippers' 19th-ranked defense. Griffin would not be able to help off him, which would open up driving lanes for Rondo, Ellis and Chandler Parsons.
Still, the key to beating the Clippers is defending and slowing the game down, something the Mavericks have struggled to do during their three meetings.
Worst: Golden State Warriors
Anyone hoping to poke holes in the Golden State Warriors' resume is going to have an impossible time. The Warriors rank first in point differential, offensive and defensive rating, effective field-goal percentage and effective field-goal defense.
Reads like a typo, doesn't it?
They are a seemingly impossible matchup for any team, let alone the Clippers. During the Clippers' two losses in the series (final meeting on March 31), the Warriors shot 53.8 percent from the field and a blistering 53.2 percent from three.
Slowing the tempo, contesting all shots and scoring in the paint are crucial if anyone is going to defeat the Warriors. They have depth, shooting and players who can play and defend multiple positions. They pressure the ball, stop penetration and contest everything at the rim.
Head coach Steve Kerr can put Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston on Paul. Andrew Bogut can play on the block or pull Jordan away from the basket, much like Gasol. Finally, Kerr can defend Griffin with Iguodala, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes or Marreese Speights. The Warriors' flexibility is simply amazing.
The Clippers will need to be focused defensively and humming offensively to keep up with the Warriors. The later the Clippers face them in the playoffs, the better.
Even: Houston Rockets
What can we take away from the four games during the season? Not as much as anyone would like.
When healthy, the Rockets have one of the most stifling defensive trios in the entire league with Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Howard. However, they have limited options to defend Griffin. Likewise, the Clippers have few players who can adequately defend Harden.
The Rockets rank fourth in defensive rating despite missing Howard for two months. The Clippers rank second in offensive rating despite missing Griffin for one month.
The Clippers rank ninth in defensive rebound percentage, but Houston ranks ninth in offensive rebounding. For every advantage on one side of the court, the other team has a counter.
Griffin can take over the game just as easily as Harden can. However, The Beard has struggled against the Clippers this year, only averaging 20 points per game—7.2 below his average. With that said, much like the Rockets' matching up with Griffin, the Clippers have nobody who can defend Harden.
This analysis results in a draw. Neither team has much of an advantage over the other, which would make this potential matchup quite intriguing.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.