The Los Angeles Clippers will be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Los Angeles clinched its spot with a 124-111 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Wednesday's seeding game at Walt Disney World Resort. The Clippers entered play 1.5 games ahead of the third-seeded Nuggets, and Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams made sure they held off the challengers with impressive performances.
As for the Nuggets, they have lost two in a row with the playoffs approaching and dropped two of three this season to a Clippers team they may face in the second round.
Notable Player Stats
- Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 26 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 9-of-16 FG
- Paul George, F, LAC: 27 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB, 3 STL, 9-of-20 FG, 4-of-9 3PT
- Lou Williams, G, LAC: 23 PTS, 7 AST, 8-of-13 FG
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 17 PTS, 13 AST, 7 REB, 7-of-11 FG
- Jerami Grant, F, DEN: 25 PTS, 6 REB, 9-of-14 FG, 4-of-7 3PT
Familiar Faces Lead Way for Short-Handed Clippers
There is not exactly a massive benefit with the No. 2 seed compared to the No. 3 seed in this format for the Clippers.
After all, no fans makes home-court advantage a much different thing, and they will play the Nuggets—assuming they both win—in the second round regardless. They will also avoid the Los Angeles Lakers until the Western Conference Finals and won't have to worry about a potential showdown with James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets in the second round.
The No. 3 seed would mean no Luka Doncic in the first round, so it wasn't exactly a troubling alternative.
Add those low stakes to the fact that the Clippers didn't have Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell or Landry Shamet, and it would have been easy for Leonard and George to go through the motions with an eye on the playoffs.
Instead, Leonard went to the blocks when he was defended by the smaller Jamal Murray, unleashed his patented mid-range shots when he found openings and attacked the lane when the opportunity presented itself.
George found the scoring touch with three triples in the third quarter, one of which came when Leonard found him after the defense collapsed on penetration.
The Clippers will likely need their full roster for later playoff rounds if they are going to deliver on championship-or-bust expectations, as well as impressive performances from role players like Ivica Zubac showed Wednesday. But Leonard and George will surely lead the way on both ends of the floor as dominant two-way wings.
Jokic Shows the Full Arsenal for Nuggets
While the best player typically drives the storylines for most teams, that has not always been the case for the Nuggets in the bubble.
After all, their talented bench entered play second in the league in offensive rating since the season restarted, per NBA.com. The entire group played significant minutes down the stretch of Monday's loss to the Lakers, holding its own until the final buzzer, and Jerami Grant dazzled for stretches in Wednesday's contest.
Michael Porter Jr. has also been one of the breakout players in the bubble as a key part of the starting lineup.
Still, the team will run through Nikola Jokic when it counts the most, and he showed why by putting on an absolute clinic at times against the Clippers.
He showed soft touch around the rim, hit from downtown, battled for boards, unleashed a baseball pass across the court and facilitated the offense from the high elbow like a guard. He seemingly sensed where the double-teams came from every time and found his open teammates with head-turning vision, especially from the center position.
Denver may not have the overall star power of some of its Western Conference counterparts, but Jokic looked every bit the part of a two-time All-Star on Wednesday.
Both teams finish their seeding-game schedule Friday when the Nuggets face the Toronto Raptors and the Clippers play the Oklahoma City Thunder.