Can the Clippers Keep Up the Pace in the NBA Playoff Race?

By Michael Wynn
Published on March 14, 2019

Remember when the Clippers unloaded Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley at the trade deadline?

It appeared that Los Angeles was packing it in for the rest of the year and focusing their efforts on luring a couple of big-time free agents to La La Land this summer.

It was almost as if the Clips were willing to forfeit their chance of reaching the 2019 postseason if it meant clearing enough cap space to attract the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.

Well, here we are in the middle of March, and the script has been flipped.

The Clippers have won five of their past six games while the other team in Hollywood has been nothing short of an utter embarrassment. Sure, the Lakers have conceded they aren’t a competitive team right now, but the Clippers are sitting at 39-30 on the year.

More importantly, Doc Rivers and his group are in a position to clinch a berth into the playoffs.

Currently in a fight with the Spurs and the Jazz for the bottom three seeds in the West, the Clippers also need to fend off the Sacramento Kings.

Los Angeles has 13 games left in the regular season to ensure they wind up in the playoffs and head into the summer with some positive momentum.

But at this point, the Clippers’ goal isn’t just to sneak into the playoffs. They’re trying to move up the food chain and see how far they can go.

Continue Building Chemistry with the New Lineup

I mentioned that the Clippers decided to shake up their roster in February when they traded away two of their best players. But ever since Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac joined the team, the Clippers seem to be gelling on the court and playing much more unified basketball.

After beating the Kings in Sacramento on the first evening in March, LA took care of business against the Knicks and the Lakers, as expected. But wins over the Thunder and Celtics during their next two contests have given the Clippers the belief that they can actually compete with the upper-echelon teams in the league.

They aren’t afraid to be different and do things their way, and that’s evident in the way the Clips have been starting off games.

Three Point Guards in the Starting Lineup

For the past 11 games, Doc Rivers has utilized a starting lineup that consists of three point guards, and apparently, the unorthodox strategy is paying off. Since inserting Landry Shamet into the starting five on February 13th, the Clippers have gone 8-3 and created some separation between themselves and their nearest pursuers.

Through six games in the month of March, Landry is averaging more than 14 points per game and is shooting 52.3% from beyond the arc. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been equally impressive, pouring in 13.3 points per game since the page turned on the calendar.

Word on the street is Shai is still developing his perimeter game, but the fact that he has connected on 9 of his last 12 three-point attempts tells me he’s starting to figure things out.

Patrick Beverley is the third PG in the starting unit for Doc Rivers, and it’s his gritty defense that keeps him on the floor during crunch-time moments. I could tell you how pesky and tenacious Beverley is, or you could press play below and watch him bump elbows with LeBron James and lock him down.

It’s hard to tell Doc Rivers that starting all three of these point guards alongside one another doesn’t make sense when the team scores 140 points and runs the Celtics out of the arena.

Perhaps if they didn’t have a reliable guard on their bench, moving Shai or Shamet to the second unit would be logical. But that’s not the case in Tinseltown.

Lou Williams Is the Most Productive Bench Player of All Time

Calling Lou Williams the most productive reserve of all time isn’t some hot take or me just pulling words out of thin air.

Lou Williams recently passed Steph Curry’s father (Dell) and is now the man responsible for scoring the most bench points in NBA history.

The 2015 NBA Sixth Man of the Year won the award again in 2018 when he averaged a career-high 22.6 points per game. The glue that holds this Clippers squad together is right back at it in 2019 and playing as well as he ever has.

Not only is Williams contributing with more than 20 PPG, but he’s shooting 88% from the line and is averaging 5.3 assists per game for the second consecutive year. The fact that Lou is efficient enough to get all of this done in just 26.5 minutes per game allows others to find a rhythm and stay involved.

Speaking of others, I want to elaborate on what this Zubac kid brings to the table.

Gortat to Zubac = A Major Upgrade

Marcin Gortat wasn’t providing enough down low for the Clippers organization. Perhaps the fact that he is now 35 years old is part of the reason.

Los Angeles was scrambling in February to find a trade partner who could supply them with some youthful energy in the post, and that’s when the Lakers made a gigantic mistake.

Ivica Zubac is an exciting prospect who won’t turn 22 until next week. The Croatian was showing steady signs of progression, yet Magic Johnson felt the urge to give up on him just so he could acquire the services of Mike Muscala.

By the way, Muscala has been a “DNP” for the Lakers in four of his 12 games and hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in a single one.

Meanwhile, Ivica’s play since joining the Clippers is making Magic look pretty foolish for initiating this deal. Ivica has three double-doubles over his last six games, averaging 10.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game during that span.

How big of an upgrade is that over Gortat?

During Marcin’s final six games with the club, all he did was average 2.67 points and 3.83 rebounds per game.

A Formidable Frontcourt

I love the combination of Zubac and Montrezl Harrell. I told you how nicely Zubac is evolving, but now let me get to their young power forward who has been a blessing off the bench.

Montrezl Harrell is on the short list of candidates to win the Most Improved Player, plain and simple.

Montrezl Harrell Per Game Averages
2017/2018 2018/2019
Minutes 17.0 26.3
Points 11.0 16.2
Rebounds 4.0 6.7
Assists 1.0 1.9
Steals 0.5 0.9
Blocks 0.7 1.3

Harrell is shooting 61.8% from the floor and leads the team with a 23.47 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Montrezl might not be the first name that pops in your head when you think about some of the best young power forwards in the NBA, but from now on, he should.

With him and Zubac banging around the basket, plugging in a deadly shooter at the small forward seems like the way to go.

Thankfully, the Clippers have done that.

Not only are the Clips equipped with an imposing duo at the “4 and the 5,” but Danilo Gallinari is quietly having his most stellar year as a professional. Gallinari is scoring over 19 points a night, which he has done before, but what jumps out at me is the fact that he’s shooting 43.5% from downtown.

The 30-year-old Italian is hovering just over 90% from the charity stripe, the third straight season in which he has converted over 90% of his attempts from the line.

This team has the pieces in place to challenge for a Western Conference title if they’re able to add a superstar during the upcoming season.

Could you even imagine if they added two?

Will the Los Angeles Clippers Make the Playoffs?

It’s getting pretty clear that the Clippers will make the playoffs; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that part out.

But I’m actually pegging them to end up capturing the sixth seed in the West and likely face the Rockets in the first round. Eight of LA’s final 13 games will be played at the Staples Center, and they have some extremely winnable away games.

Not only do they get the Cavs and the Knicks on the road, but their final test away from Los Angeles is at Oracle Arena on the final Sunday of the season. If Golden State has already clinched the top seed in the conference, it’s likely the Clippers will face a Warriors squad who is resting its key players.

The Clips aren’t going to win the Pacific Division, and in all likelihood, they will be eliminated in round one of the playoffs. If you bet the NBA online, then you are aware that the Clippers are listed around +7000 to get to the NBA Finals and +12500 to be the last team standing.

But if this team finishes ten games over .500 and brings in Kawhi Leonard and another marquee player, 2020 is going to be an entirely different story.

As far as this year’s postseason run goes, we need to temper our expectations. I’ll say the Clippers will crack the 2019 NBA playoffs, but I expect their stay will be short-lived.

Wondering who else might be joining the Clippers in the playoffs? Yesterday I took a look at Orlando Magic’s playoff chances, and I’ll be assessing some other teams in the coming days. Stay tuned to the blog for that.

Going Away

Steve Ballmer is the owner, and Lawrence Frank’s title is President of Basketball Operations.

But it’s the mastermind behind the scenes acting as a consultant who is turning the Clippers franchise around. Jerry West is the cream of the crop when it comes to individuals who understand how to build an NBA team from the ground up. I doubt anyone in the basketball industry would debate that.

We saw Jerry turn the Grizzlies into a perennial playoff team, and we know what happened to the Golden State Warriors once he arrived on the scene at the end of the 2011 season. Now West is working his magic in the city he was a legendary player in.

Look for him to help guide the Clippers to the postseason in 2019 with an outside chance at them potentially making some noise once they get there. As far as just how good Jerry West is at his job, I’ll leave you with this.

By the time the start of next season rolls around, don’t be shocked if the Clippers are the betting favorites to win the NBA Finals.

Can the Clippers Keep Up the Pace in the NBA Playoff Race?
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Can the Clippers Keep Up the Pace in the NBA Playoff Race?
The Los Angeles Clippers are making a push toward the 2019 NBA playoffs and playing their best basketball since early in the season. Can they keep it up?
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