The Clippers have just completed another franchise record breaking season. They’ve locked up another division banner, set a new franchise record for wins in a season and improved their playoff seeding position from the previous two years. What’s the level of satisfaction in Clipper Nation? We asked our staff five questions on the season, plus predictions for the impending showdown with Golden State.
1. Did the Clippers meet, exceed or fall short of your preseason expectations?
Jovan Buha, (@jovanbuha): Exceeded. I predicted the Clippers would win 58 games. But had I known Chris Paul (19 games), J.J. Redick (46), Matt Barnes (19) and Jamal Crawford (13) would miss so many games, I would have lowered my expectations to about 50 wins. That they were in the hunt for the No. 2 seed is a testament to Doc Rivers’ coaching, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s growth and overall depth.
J.D. Evans: This is a trick question, because preseason expectations were based on a team with Mullens, Jamison and Hollins playing major minutes. So, sure, they’ve met my preseason expectations. But Griffin’s much better now than he was in October, Barnes is a legitimate starter and the bench has Dudley, Granger, Davis and even Turkoglu to go along with Crawford and Collison. This team has made preseason expectations irrelevant.
Aaron Fischman, (@aaronhartf): Met. I expected the Clippers to be a top-two seed in the West. They finished a game behind the No. 2 Thunder and have the superior point differential despite being hit with a slew of injuries. Then again, the Spurs were hit with an avalanche of injuries, and the Thunder lost Westbrook for an extended period of time. But whatever… the Clippers will finish with a winning percentage around .700, and that’s about what I expected.
Jacob Frankel, (@jacob_frankel): Pretty much met expectations. I had them for 56 wins and the best offense in the league. How they got there was a little bit different than I expected. A lot more from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and a lot less from J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley than I prognosticated.
Andrew Han, (@andrewthehan): From a record perspective, they fell short. I pegged them as a 61 win team with the arrival of Doc and the improvements to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Injuries obviously robbed the team of at least four wins, so from a practical standpoint, they’ve wildly exceeded my expectations. I did not peg Griffin to make this dramatic of a leap this season and Jordan’s rebounding voracity has been a revelation. Before the season started the prevailing question was, “The Clippers’ title hopes rely on the improvements of Griffin and Jordan.” Doesn’t it seem like those have been put to bed?
Patrick James, (@patrickmjames): They met them. Back in September, I thought the team would win only a few more games than the 2013 squad, but they’d be significantly better. To wit, the team has narrowly exceeded last year’s win total (franchise record!), but they’ve hit that mark with Chris Paul missing 20 games, J.J. Redick missing two months and a rotating cast of supporting players missing lots of shots and rotations.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): I figured 58 wins, but a team that would look significantly more prepared for the playoffs than last year’s. It’s fair to say DeAndre Jordan exceeded expectations (I put him second on my Most Improved Player ballot for the ESPN Forecast awards), but he was clearly going to get better with age, minutes and confidence. Same goes for Blake Griffin. But aside from that, everything seems to make sense, right? The Clippers aren’t unexpectedly good. They’re as good as they were supposed to be.
Luke Laubhan, (@lukelaubhan): This may sound a little strange after a season that was, for the most part, pretty great, but the Clippers only met my expectations. The team will finish with a slightly better record than last year, a top-3 seed in the West, and its second consecutive division title. Given the offseason coaching upgrade and the competitive depth in the conference, those were realistic goals for a team that did essentially the same last year.
Andy Liu, (@AndyKHLiu): Exceed. If I had known Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford would miss extended time with injury, I’d envision them fighting in the bottom-4 of the loaded Western Conference playoff finish. Throw in Danny Granger’s corpse and minutes for both Matt Barnes and Big Baby and their 3-seed is a testament to how great Blake Griffin and CP3 (when he’s been on the floor) has been all season.
Ben Mesirow: Looking back at this season, the Clippers won more than 55 games, finished third in an extremely competitive Western Conference, lead the league in points per 100 possessions and saw the younger of their two franchise cornerstones make the leap from star to superstar; it was a pretty impressive year. And yet, going into the season this is almost exactly what I expected. It’s conceivable that my expectations were ridiculously high, but the Clippers met them. Third in the West and a significant step forward feels about right, considering the preseason additions and hype.
Law Murray, (@1maddskillz): This season’s team met my expectations. I felt like they could have finished with the West’s second best record and another division title. They fell just short of the Thunder, but they have the division. Of course, this team was always to be defined in the playoffs. They’re on track. Nothing more, nothing less.
Seth Partnow, (@WhrOffnsHppns): Pretty much met, though not necessarily in the exact manner I thought they would–the development of Griffin and Jordan has been somewhat surprising which means the injuries to basically everyone on the perimeter were easier to deal with.
Seerat Sohi, (@DamianTrillard): Franchise record win total, check. Blake Griffin obliterating expectations, check. DeAndre Jordan finding his defensive stride, check. Aside from injuries and bench woes–and the former somewhat perpetuates the latter–the Clippers have far and away exceeded expectations. They’re not the defensive dynamos we hoped for earlier this season, but they’ve replaced the system vs. personnel question on defense with a new one: Can an elite offense make up for a forgettable defense? We’re gonna find out soon.
David Vertsberger, (@_Verts): I expected the Clippers to finish around where they stand currently, but never entertained the idea it happening while Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford missed a ton of games. Thus, I’d have to say they exceeded my expectations, and by a pretty considerable margin.
2. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin each have four more years on their contract after this season. What is the outlook of the Clippers in the upcoming seasons?
Buha: Outside of Oklahoma City, the Clippers have the brightest future of any Western team. Houston and Golden State are in the conversation, of course, but I trust Los Angeles’ superstars more than the Rockets’ duo or the Warriors’ depth. There are two important questions to consider, though: How much better can Blake Griffin get? And, perhaps more important, how long will CP3 remain a top-10 player? I don’t know the answer to either, but I’m optimistic.
Evans: Their core is as good as any in the conference; they can aim for the conference finals or Finals every year. But, even assuming that the Spurs finally slip (not guaranteed), OKC and Houston have as much or more room for growth as the Clippers. And there are so many young, high potential teams (Golden State, Minnesota, Portland, even New Orleans) that it will be impossibly difficult for any one team to dominate the West.
Fischman: The outlook for the next four years–-and believe me, this will sound completely crazy to anyone who knows anything about the Clippers franchise–-is to win at least one championship. In terms of the West, it will be to take over the place of the aging Spurs as a perennial Western elite alongside the Thunder. We’re talking 60 wins every year without fail.
Frankel: Really, really good. There’s a case to be made that Paul and Griffin are the third and fourth best players in the league. With those two, the Clippers are pretty much guaranteed a top-five offense for the next four seasons. It’ll be on management to put the right pieces around them. Things can change fast in the NBA, but I’d say there’s a 30 percent chance we see the Clippers in the Finals sometime over the next four years.
Han: Perennial title contenders, at least for the next half decade. Paul may be on the downside of his prime athleticism in four years, but Griffin should be directly in the peak of his. Really, the Clippers have two championship windows that butt up against each other: now, in Paul’s formative years, and two to three years from now when Griffin is at the height of his powers. If the team maintains the right complementary pieces around the two, hints of a red, white and blue dynasty exist.
James: The outlook is an exploding magic eight ball. Before you finish asking the question, you’re awash with purple goo and black plastic fragments. Here are three assumptions we can make that support this position: Doc Rivers will continue to be a great coach and a draw for veteran role players under market value; DeAndre Jordan will keep improving under Rivers’ watch; Griffin will become an even better shooter and a legitimate MVP candidate. Plus Redick is on the books until 2017.
Katz: If you’re the Clippers, it means you have the current best point guard and power forward in the NBA. You have a top-five coach. And this is a team that is already a championship contender. Once the stars are there, you can get the role players to come. There’s little reason to be anything other than positive about the Clippers’ future.
Laubhan: [Puts sunglasses on] The future is bright. Over the next four years, the Clippers’ primary championship-level competition in the West are the Thunder, Spurs, and Rockets; possibly some other team-to-be-determined. As great as Durant and Westbrook are, OKC has a real coaching and financial ceiling. The Spurs will inevitably die, someday. And I don’t know if Harden and Howard have the substance necessary to win it all. Meanwhile, L.A. is going to get even better under Doc’s tutelage.
Liu: Rosy. Blake Griffin is headed to his prime–also one of the most improved players in the league. And though Chris Paul will be turning 29 next season, he’s been playing an old man’s point guard game for the last three seasons, anyway. With Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan retiring soon, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets are the only teams on a similar talent level, at least at the top. Anything can change, especially in a havocked NBA environment, but Blake/CP3 should remain as steady as ever.
Mesirow: The Clippers’ outlook is bright. The other Western Conference powers aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future–OKC is young, Houston is stable (or as stable as a Dwight Howard team can be), Portland looks on the way up and the Spurs are the Spurs–and there are several young teams knocking on the door. But anytime you have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin locked up you’re in a good position. They are a duo that quality players will want to join, and between their competitive drive and the mostly shrewd moves the team has made in the last offseason or two there is no reason to expect a drop-off.
Murray: I don’t believe I am being irrational when saying that the Clippers have a three-year title window. Griffin will be in his athletic prime for as long as Paul is under contract, and there is no better point guard-big man tandem in the league. The Clippers should eat offensively for awhile. Add in Rivers, and the Clippers should live like the late 2000s Celtics, at least. Things are stabilized and under control, which is not something you can say about the other Pacific division teams right now.
Partnow: The Clips are right there with the Thunder for being best set up going forward, though there are challengers coming up possibly in Phoenix and New Orleans among the non-playoff teams. Plus who’s beating the Lakers when they manage to sign the new Dream Team in free agency?
Sohi: Hard to say anything in the West–at least until after the playoffs. The Spurs will eventually wither away, right? Right? Guys? Every top West team has a youngish tandem that induces a double-take, it seems: Dwight Harden and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Warriors’ hodgepodge of hateable faces and Steph Curry. Best I can tell, the Clippers are lucky they’ve got their own tandem, but all it really entails for any of these squads is the same thing: A place in the conversation.
Vertsberger: You have to think the Clippers spend the next four years trying to milk a championship out of those two centerpieces. How they do so will be tricky. Probably the most interesting factor that needs to be addressed is that their wing rotation is essentially locked in through 2016 despite need for improvement. But even as the roster stands, or if varied slightly, the Clippers are a smidge below the surefire contenders that are San Antonio and the OKC Thunder, although they will continue to be a force in the West.
3. Buy or Sell: The Clippers are co-favorites to win the West along with Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
Buha: Buy. The Clippers have the second-best net rating (+7.5) this season, trailing only the Spurs (+8.4). The Thunder are third (+7.1.), but when factoring in post All-Star break play, the Clippers remain second behind the Spurs and the Thunder drop to seventh. That doesn’t mean Los Angeles would be the favorites in a series with OKC, but I think it’d be a 50/50 split. Assuming J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford can play at 80 percent or better, they’re as dangerous as anyone.
Evans: Buy. Those three teams have the league’s best point differential, and the best spread between their offensive and defensive efficiency, by some distance (they’re all +7.2 or better; Miami, fourth best, is +6.4). The Spurs have the best coach and home court. OKC has the best top three player. The Clippers have the deepest bench, and they’re the most improved of the three since the start of the year. All that said, the Spurs are 1A and the Clippers are 1C, because there are so many new pieces in L.A.
Fischman: Sell. As talented and deep as the Clippers are, the Spurs and Thunder have to be the leading favorites out West, given each team’s prior experience with postseason success. And yes, that even takes into account the Clippers’ second-best point differential in the entire NBA. As ready as the Clippers appear to be for primetime, they shouldn’t be favorites until they’ve actually made an NBA Finals appearance, let alone a Western Conference Finals.
Frankel: I really don’t know. I’ve typed up two different answers to this question and promptly deleted each. I won’t go so far to say co-favorites, but I’ll say the odds are something like 40-35-25 for the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers respectively.
Han: Buy. Can you have three co-favorites in one conference? That’s almost half of the field. But it’s a testament to how incredible the West has been this season. I may slide San Antonio a smidge above the Thunder and Clippers if forced to choose one because they’ve peaked at the right time and have done it so consistently throughout the years. But when kissing the ring in one hand, aim for the heart with the other.
James: Sell. I wouldn’t favor the Clippers in a series against either team, so I can’t call them a favorite in the West. That’s not to say they can’t win it, just that it’s more likely for Oklahoma City and San Antonio to make the Western Conference Finals than for the Clippers. But this is certainly the best shot the Clippers have ever had.
Katz: Sell, but I’m not selling Jim Cramer style with a “SELL, SELL, SELL!!” It’s more of a, “I’ll sell it if it’s a seller’s market.” It’s a tentative sell. But still a sell. And yes, I have said sell 10 times in the past five sentences. It may be close, but San Antonio is always the favorite. The Spurs have earned that much. The others in the conversation are a close second.
Laubhan: Buy. For a team that dealt with injuries all season, Los Angeles is more or less healthy entering the playoffs, and presumably rested. We’ve seen Doc’s impact on the Clipper big men during the regular season; I suspect he saved his special inspirational speeches for now. Chris Paul, a top-5 player for almost his entire career, has more weaponry and coaching support at his disposal than ever before. Don’t bet against L.A.
Liu: Buy. Perhaps they’re a notch below a rested Spurs and improving Thunder team but they’re certainly a level or two above a hobbled Rockets and Warriors team and a Blazers squad that struggles on defense. The only downside comes with a potential second-round matchup with the Thunder. But sooner or later, you’ll have to beat the great teams to become one.
Mesirow: I would buy that those teams are the three most likely to represent the West, but putting them on equal footing is a stretch. Both OKC and San Antonio have been there before, and San Antonio especially has proven that they know exactly how to take these Clippers apart. I still think both the Thunder and the Spurs are a step ahead of the Clippers, but like the Clippers decidedly more than any of the other Western contenders this year.
Murray: I’m buying, though that’s a lot of “favorites”. I have a formula for assessing a team’s championship qualities, and the Clippers are one of only two Western Conference teams to fulfill all five qualities. They have three scorers, their best scorer isn’t their point guard, they have players who can get to the line at least five times a game, they take more free throws than threes and they have a top-ten defense. Of course, they’re on a collision course with the other team that fits those qualities in the Thunder. And I picked the Spurs winning Game 7 of the NBA Finals this year.
Partnow: Sell. Spurs are clear favorites in part because of their easier second round match-up, but San Antonio should also be favored straight up versus either team. That said, the Clippers won’t be huge underdogs to them assuming both teams make the conference finals.
Sohi: Buy. They’re finally getting healthy and, as far as I’m concerned, the West is up for grabs. Something to keep in mind: Houston is 4-0 against San Antonio this season. That might be nothing, but it could be something. If those two squads match up, there’s a punchers chance the Clippers could avoid the Spurs. That said, the fact I cringe at the idea of the Clippers facing OKC or the Spurs (and the road to the Finals will undoubtedly go through one of them, maybe both). That might be a good indicator that the Clips are still on the outside looking in. Truth is, this has been a season of discovery for Clipper folk. The question of where the Clippers fit can’t honestly be answered until their season is finished.
Vertsberger: Sell. It’s not that the Clippers aren’t close–they are–it’s just that the Spurs and Thunder are a different breed of contender. They don’t have the holes Los Angeles has and do have the experience the Clippers lack. Does this mean the Clippers absolutely has no chance to make the NBA Finals? Of course not, but the Spurs and Thunder are still a step ahead.
4. Confirm or Deny: Anything short of a conference finals appearance will be a disappointment.
Buha: Deny. If the Clippers lose to the Thunder in a seven-game war in the semifinals (without home court), that’s not a failure in my eyes. However, anything less than that probably is. A first-round loss would be a disaster, especially against the undermanned Warriors. An uncompetitive second-round matchup against OKC would be nearly as bad. The Clippers should make the conference finals, but there are two other teams that can also make that claim. Someone’s going to go home early, and it could be Los Angeles.
Evans: Confirm, which doesn’t mean that losing to OKC in the Conference Semis would be a reason to blow it up and start again. When there are three great teams, one of them has to miss out. And given how good the away playoff teams are, even two of the top three could go home early.
Fischman: Confirm. It doesn’t matter that the Thunder and Spurs are co-favorites to win the West (according to my last answer) and the Clippers are not. Falling short of the Western Conference Finals would be a huge disappointment. In this thrilling season that has overseen Doc Rivers’ first year at the helm, Blake Griffin’s full-blown evolution and the team’s overcoming of ample injuries, a first- or second-round loss would perceived as super-weak.
Frankel: Confirm. While the Clippers are only the third best team in the conference, there’s a tacit and probably unfair expectation to over-perform your regular season results in the playoffs. Doing what is reasonably expected is a disappointment.
Han: Confirm, although it’s not like they won’t have their explanations. The Clippers are likely a better team than their record indicates. But when you have as many injuries to key players as they’ve had, it’s simply unclear what the level of chemistry and camaraderie a unit can build in terms of defensive and offensive trust. Still, a team projected with the second best chances to win the title according to Hollinger’s playoff odds not at least making the conference finals is frustrating at least.
James: Confirm. But disappointment is different than failure. This season is already an improvement on last year, and so long as the Clippers don’t get bounced in the first round, they’re trending in the right direction. Even if these playoffs don’t go as planned, it’s not like they’d be in Atlanta Hawks territory–playoff mainstay that no one takes seriously. Well, not yet anyway.
Katz: Confirm. It almost feels like there are three top-two teams in the West, doesn’t it? If any of the Clippers, Thunder or Spurs missed the Western Conference Finals, it’d be a disappointment. It would almost feel like there had to be an upset somewhere along the lines, even though there wouldn’t have been, but that’s what happens when the three best teams of the regular season all come from the same conference. So would the Clippers have to feel disappointed if they didn’t come within arm’s length of the finals? Of course. But does it mean they should be embarrassed if they lose a close, hard-fought, road series to Oklahoma City in the second round? Of course not.
Laubhan: Confirm. A series loss to the Warriors in the first round seems unlikely and would feel more weird than anything, like getting food poisoning after a wedding reception. Falling to the Thunder in the Conference Semis is both more palatable and possible; Durant will be a top-15 player all-time, and the playoffs are where guys like him make history. But Doc didn’t arrive in Los Angeles aiming for a graceful second round exit, and that’s not this team’s trajectory.
Liu: Confirm. When your coach compares your starting center to Bill Russell, there are expectations to be met. It also doesn’t hurt that the Clippers are good enough to get there, so unlike the Warriors on the other side without the requisite talent/coaching to hold up their end of the bargain, the pressure is warranted.
Mesirow: Deny. Although any playoff exit for any team is always a disappointment, a loss in a hard-fought second round series to OKC wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Clippers should beat anyone outside of the Spurs or the Thunder, so a loss to Golden State in the first round, to Memphis in the second round (if they were to beat the Thunder) or anyone other than San Antonio in the conference finals would be a disappointment. That said, this year’s Western Conference playoffs has so much top-to-bottom talent that it feels almost as unpredictable as March Madness. Buckle your seatbelts.
Murray: Confirmed. If the top level is winning a championship, and the next best accomplishment is winning the conference title, the middle ground is to at least contend for the conference title. This team isn’t one in development. The time is now. In my book, you aren’t a contender if you can’t win multiple playoff series. Falling short of a conference title will be a letdown, regardless of the circumstances.
Partnow: Especially with the Bogut injury making the first round a much less daunting task, a second round loss would be at least a mild disappointment. That’s speaking objectively. Subjectively, anything short of the NBA Finals will feel like a disappointment given the ceiling of this team.
Sohi: Deny. Have you seen the West? This is no cop-out: Sometimes Kevin Durant will be Kevin Durant, and that’s the ball game. A well fought series against the Thunder is nothing to be ashamed of.
Vertsberger: Deny. The Clippers will have lost to one of the best teams in basketball if denied a trip to the conference finals, and that’s no crime. The weaknesses of this team aren’t hidden, they’re known by anybody who’s watched them and expectations aren’t generally that this team will take home the championship trophy.
5. One thing to watch for in the first round against the Warriors? What’s the series outcome?
Buha: The popular answer is probably defending Golden State’s 3-point shooting, so I’ll roll with the cross matchups from the Warriors’ side. With Bogut out, how many minutes does Jermaine O’Neal play? 30? 25? Can he even play that long? Does Draymond Green play almost exclusively at power forward? Will Super Saiyan Stephen Curry be unleashed? How does Doc respond? Does he stay big the entire time? Close with smaller lineups (either inside or on the perimeter)? This is going to be a fun series, even if it’s short lived. I can’t wait. Clippers in five.
Evans: What Bogut’s absence will mean for the physicality of the series. Bogut is the dirty a-hole (that’s a compliment) who turns the Warriors into warriors rather than splash brothers. Jermaine O’Neal will bring his best stare-downs, but how long can he run the court with the Clippers’ bigs? After all the build up, this could end up as a spirited but even-keeled match-up, unless The Reverend Jackson decides to take his frustration with his own coaching staff out on Tyronn Lue. And even if he does that, the Clips win in six.
Fischman: I want to see how the Clippers defend the 3. Lighting it up from deep is the Warriors’ only chance of winning now that Bogut will be sidelined for the whole series. Golden State attempts 24.9 treys per night (sixth-most league-wide), where they convert 38.0 percent of the time. Fortunately for Los Angeles, the Clippers leads the league in opposing 3-point percentage (33.1 percent). That said, the Warriors are shooting 42.6 percent from deep this month and have shot 41.4 percent in four head-to-head meetings with the Clips. The Clippers will win the series in six games.
Frankel: This one looks to be over with Bogut out, but I still wonder if Golden State could pull out some wacky matchups and win it. Their one big look–David Lee or Jermaine O’Neal at center and Draymond Green at power forward–absolutely kills teams. The fan of competitive basketball in me is hoping the Warriors pull out wacky lineups like that which can confound the Clippers’ defense. But with Bogut out, Los Angeles is the much better team. Clippers in five.
Han: DeAndre Jordan offensive rebounds and touches. I’m assuming everyone’s mentioned Andrew Bogut’s injury and impact to the series, and Jordan’s involvement may be the biggest indicator. Originally Bogut could have guarded Griffin or helped off of Jordan to dissuade Blake from getting to the rim. Now? Can David Lee, Draymond Green or Jermaine O’Neal keep DeAndre from getting outrageously deep post position or jump with him to corral rebounds and the ensuing second chance points? It’s completely possibly for DeAndre to average 18 points and 20 rebounds this series. I value the utlity of Bogut that greatly. That’s why I’m stepping on a limb and going Clippers in four.
James: Will Andrew Bogut make an improbable return to Oracle, storming the floor with all manner of defensive fury and going down in the history books as the hero of “the rib game”? If that happens, I don’t know that the Clippers can recover. If that doesn’t happen, things will be easier for the Clippers–but this is not a lock. I want to believe it happens in four or five, but I’m leery of Curry et al., so I say Clippers in six.
Katz: Mark Jackson isolation ball. If the Clippers try to guard Harrison Barnes with Jamal Crawford or Darren Collison in some bench lineups, see how often Jackson lets Barnes post up and try to create. Watch for Klay Thompson post-ups and isolations. When Golden State relies on that type of offense for long stretches, that’s when its opponents have a chance to go on dominant runs. Clippers in six.
Laubhan: Andrew Bogut’s rib injury should, theoretically, open up more space for the Clipper big men to operate offensively. All season, Blake has impressed with his improved offensive strategy and consistency, to the point where he’s receiving league MVP hype. His play in the last two postseasons haven’t warranted that kind of praise, though. Now is his chance, and to a lesser extent, DeAndre Jordan’s chance, to validate his regular season ascension. Clipper win, 4-1.
Liu: Something to watch is the amount the Warriors go small. If Doc Rivers adjusts and plays only one of Jordan or Griffin for extended minutes, it plays directly into Mark Jackson’s hands. The Warriors need to go full 2007 “We Believe” to win the series and the Clippers would be ill-advised to go full 2007 Dallas Mavericks. Without Andrew Bogut in the middle, there’s almost zero chance of the Clippers losing. Clippers in six.
Mesirow: Will the Warriors be able to defend Blake Griffin, and how often will they be able to get under his skin? Lots of opponents try to rattle Blake Griffin, and plenty of them have been able to get him one technical (often a double-tech), but only the Warriors actually got Blake ejected. Without the excellent defense (and skilled provocations) of Andrew Bogut, the Warriors are likely to send a mix of Jermaine O’Neal, David Lee and perhaps some Draymond Green at Griffin. I’m expecting Griffin to eat them alive, but wouldn’t be surprised to see some feistiness and more than one or two techs called over the course of the series. Without Bogut, though, I think this should be a fairly quick (but still exciting) series. Clippers in five.
Murray: The Clippers defend threes better than any team in the league, but the Warriors are the next best three-point defensive team in the playoffs. Los Angeles is 35-1 this season when they make at least nine threes; they made 29-of-88 against Golden State in four meetings, at a below-average 33 percent clip. Golden State seems ripe for the kind of postseason meltdown that the Clippers had last year, though. Right now, I have the Clippers winning in six.
Partnow: Does Mark Jackson actually break out and ride with a small-ball lineup for extended stretches? If so, will DeAndre be able to stay on the floor? The Warriors’ best chance with Bogut out is to try to get L.A. out of their preferred rotations and style of play, and unconventional lineups are the best way to make this happen. Clippers, 4-1.
Sohi: With Bogut’s status up in the air, who knows? If Mark Jackson is willing, the Warriors’ small ball lineup could do serious damage against the Clippers. L.A. might be the one team that would cringe at the notion of a small ball lineup and David Lee in the middle. On the Clippers side, well jeez, just watch Blake Griffin. The term “superstar” has always been amorphous, and Griffin’s fanfare skyrocketed him to that status in his rookie season. Now that his game has caught up with him, I get jitters thinking about what he’ll do in the post-season. Clippers in six.
Vertsberger: The Warriors’ late-game execution on offense. Golden State is in the bottom half in the league in fourth-quarter offensive efficiency, succumbing to simplistic post-ups that oftentimes don’t end well. We’ll see a few close games being decided in the final minutes, so how Mark Jackson approaches crunch time on offense will definitely be something to look out for. In the end, the Bogut injury is too much for the Warriors to overcome. 4-1, Clippers.
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