The Los Angeles Clippers have mostly lived up to expectations in the first half of the 2020-21 season, but it's the rest of the year that will determine whether it has been a success.
We can get an early look at this part after the NBA revealed the second half of the schedule on Wednesday.
Los Angeles remains one of the top teams in the Western Conference with a 23-10 record. Kawhi Leonard is still among the best two-way players in the sport, while Paul George has been even better than last year with averages of 24.6 points, 5.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game.
New additions like Luke Kennard, Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum have also made seamless transitions to the rotation to provide the Clippers with plenty of depth, even after losing Montrezl Harrell to free agency.
The challenge will be keeping it up for the rest of the regular season before making a deep postseason run to make up for last year's disappointment.
Here's what you need to know about the rest of the 2020-21 campaign.
2020-21 Clippers Schedule Details
Second-Half Opener: Thursday, March 11 vs. Golden State Warriors
Championship Odds: +550 (via FanDuel) (bet $100 to win $550)
Second-Half Schedule: NBA.com
Los Angeles Lakers (April 4, May 6)
No matter what the standings look like, any matchup against the Lakers is going to be a big one.
The city rivalry is always testy but things have picked up lately, with the two sides clearly not liking each other.
"There are some real feelings regarding the Clippers. It's more than just battle-for-LA stuff, though that's part of it," Jared Dudley said in his new book, Inside the NBA Bubble: A Championship Season under Quarantine (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll).
These teams faced each other just once in the first half of the year, with the Clippers earning a 116-109 win on opening night. George led all scorers with 33 points in the victory.
The Clippers do have a size disadvantage but are one of the few teams that can match up with the NBA champions thanks to the efficiency on both ends of the court.
More success against the Lakers won't just help in the standings, but it will be valuable mentally going into the postseason.
Denver Nuggets (April 1, May 1)
The Utah Jazz have been the better team in 2020-21, but the Denver Nuggets are likely more on the minds of Los Angeles.
Denver shocked the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs last year, overcoming a 3-0 deficit to win the seven-game series.
Nikola Jokic is more dangerous than ever, averaging 27.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game, while Jamal Murray clearly has the knack to make clutch shots late in games.
Los Angeles has to show it can lock these players down, which could be an even bigger issue with Patrick Beverley slowed by a knee injury for much of this season. Ibaka has proved valuable as a defender in the post, but can he stay with Jokic?
The Nuggets are fighting for a playoff spot, but the Clippers will know what they are capable of and won't be unprepared.
Just like last season, the Clippers have the talent to win an NBA title.
Leonard and George can take over games while opponents don't have many choices on who to leave open in this rotation. If the defense focuses for four quarters, this team can match up with anyone.
A key question mark for the second half is health, especially with an aging roster of five primary starters age 29 or older. We could see more load-management games for the stars in the second half, preventing a better finish in the Western Conference standings.
It still doesn't matter, though, as the team's only focus is success in the playoffs.
Los Angeles has had nine straight winning seasons but failed to advance beyond the Western Conference semifinals in this stretch. This could be the team that changes the recent history.
Record Prediction: 46-26