In case you’ve missed it or don’t have an Insider account, ESPN’s John Hollinger has been releasing his regular season forecast day-by-day starting last week. Today, he revealed his sixth-seed projection for the Eastern and Western conference. Alas, the Clippers came in at No. 6, behind San Antonio, Denver, Oklahoma City, the Lakers and Memphis (in that order). Hollinger projects them to finish 47-35 (as a reference, he projects Memphis at 50-32 and Brooklyn at 47-35). Here are a few tidbits from Hollinger’s forecast:
But the biggest rain cloud is the lingering worry that somehow, some way, Sterling will figure out a means of screwing up the surest thing he’s ever had. By all rights, a Paul-Griffin combo should have the Clippers contending for the next half-decade. The fact we’re so unsure that will happen is because they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so many times before.
The Clippers are in that interesting place where you can project a lot of different potential outcomes. Suppose Griffin and Paul stay healthy all season, Jordan and Griffin improve their defensive recognition, Odom is reborn, Billups fully recovers, Bledsoe keeps up his strong play from last year’s playoffs, and Turiaf stays in one piece all year? One can easily see the Clippers pushing into the conference’s upper crust in that scenario.
Doom-and-gloomers, alas, can paint an equal and opposite scenario, one where the young bigs fail to progress, Bledsoe can’t buy a shot, Billups can’t move, Odom’s funk proves enduring, the wings are exposed nightly and Del Negro can’t find answers on defense. Maybe throw in a puzzling move or two from The Donald and the doomsday view ends with Paul agitating for relocation at the trade deadline heading into his free-agent year.
In fact, there’s a lot of ho-hum up and down the roster when you get past the two stars. Jordan has the best chance at being a third impact player, but his offensive limitations and defensive confusion likely limit him to a league-average starting center — still a nice piece, yes, but not a game-changing one.
All this might still add up to a contender if the Clippers had a defensive system that could make this group more than the sum of its parts, but there’s little evidence that they can be better than league average at this end. Individually, Paul, Hill and Bledsoe are plus defenders and Jordan’s shot-blocking has value, but there are a lot of weak links here.
Sum it up and they’ll probably be good … just not good enough, at least in this conference. Which takes us to the even bigger unknown: What such a finish might portend for CP’s future plans.
What do you think? Where will the Clippers finish in the West? And how many games will they win? Feel free to comment below.