It’s been a long summer, but Clippers’ opening day is finally here. The ClipperBlog staff is here to prepare you for the first game against the Thunder, running on TNT at 7:30 p.m. PST.
1. Who is more important to this team: Chris Paul or Blake Griffin?
Michael Shagrin, (@mshaggy): During the regular season, it’s Chris Paul. Night in and night out, Paul will helm what is likely the best offense in the league—reading defenses, taking advantage of little wrinkles. But come the playoffs, it’ll be Blake. Paul’s individual creativity is a lot easier to contain in the postseason when coaches have seven games to figure him out. That’s when Blake has to shine.
Andy Liu, (@AndyKHLiu): When Paul went down last season, we saw the Clippers offense soar due to Griffin’s heroics and growth as an unstoppable force. But the answer remains two-pronged to me. The Clippers can survive a CP3 injury in the regular season but cannot during the postseason. Both are undeniably important but we saw how a limited Paul threw a wrench into how they lost in the Western Conference semifinals.
Roscoe Whalan, (@RoscoeWhalan7): Griffin. Mind you, if Paul is injured for substantially more time than his usual 18 games this year, it could get ugly. The Clippers are a perennial playoff contender now, thanks to CP3. However, if the Clippers are to win a championship, a lot of that depends on Griffin and how much better he can get.
Justin Evans: This year, probably for the last time, it’s Paul. The Clippers will go further than they did the last two seasons if the team’s offense improves at the end of close games, which is more dependent on Paul: less temporizing, more flow.
Law Murray, (@LawMurraytheNU): Griffin. Last season probably should have made that clear. Los Angeles is deep enough in terms of ballhandling guards to handle an absence to the don of the position, and having Doc Rivers as your head coach (instead of the guy he replaced) helps because he can promote offensive stability in the absence of Paul. Take Griffin out of the lineup for 20 games, and things may get ugly on both sides of the ball.
Jacob Frankel, (@jacob_frankel): Griffin has made huge improvements, and will continue to get better, but the most important player is Paul, and it’s not that close. He’ll take a token 15 games off during the regular season, and Blake might have a larger role in general, but Paul will dictate how far this team goes in the playoffs.
Ben Mesirow, (@SemNeb): For a single game, I think Chris Paul’s leadership, decision-making, and game management are likely more important to this Clipper team. However, I’m not sure that’s the case over the course of the entire season—Griffin made a massive leap last year, and his development must continue for the Clippers to meet or exceed their lofty expectations.
Seth Partnow, (@SethPartnow): Which is “more” important is sort of a useless questions. If the team has title aspirations, and they do, the Clips need both players healthy and producing at a high level. If you are right-handed, your right hand is MORE important, but you aren’t swinging an axe without both.
2. Over/under 56.5 wins?
Shagrin: Over. 60 wins seems like a reasonable target given the team’s regular-season success last year. The question is, will those wins translate into a trip to the Conference Finals or is this team just another pre-Memorial Day flameout?
Liu: The only team that will win more games are the ageless San Antonio Spurs. Here’s to the first 60-win regular season in franchise story at 61-21.
Whalan: Over (58-24). The No. 1 offense in the NBA’s added to its firepower. Spencer Hawes finally gives the Clippers a legitimate third big who can stretch the floor (thanks for the memories, B.J. Mullens), and a healthy JJ Redick for more than half a season will cause conniptions for opposing defenses.
Evans: Just under. The West is too hard and too even, and Doc has to work out a rotation over the first two months, which could hurt the team’s final record. Still, they should be good for second or third in the West with 56 wins.
Murray: Under. But slightly. 55 wins. 60 wins seems very optimistic. And I’m a realist.
Frankel: I’ll go barely over, at 57 wins. I think they’re better than last season, but that’s mitigated by an even tougher Western Conference.
Mesirow: Over, 59-23. Last season, both Paul and Redick missed significant chunks of time and the Clippers won 57 games. This year the team is even deeper, with more time in Doc Rivers’ system and a healthier starting lineup. Under 56 wins would likely put them in a tight race to host the first round, disappointing for a team with championship aspirations.
Partnow: Under, I’d say just about 54 wins.
3. What is the Clippers’ biggest weakness?
Shagrin: Defense on the wings. DeAndre Jordan has rounded out into a shockingly good defender. He still gets caught biting on pump fakes and migrating away from prime positioning around the basket, but those problems are nothing compared to the Clippers’ shortage of wing stoppers. But I’m still holding out hope for Reggie Bullock.
Liu: Shooting, shooting, shooting. Even with J.J. Redick running around screens as one of the game’s most lethal strikers, the team lacks playable wings that can shoot the ball off Blake and Paul’s drive-and-kicks. There’s lots riding on Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock with little confidence in them succeeding.
Whalan: The Clippers have to do a better job of keeping teams off the glass. For all their athleticism, the Clips ranked nearly dead last when it came to giving up second-chance opportunities to opponents. If the preseason is anything to go by, it’s a problem that’s still yet to be addressed.
Evans: Always small forward: Barnes deserves opportunities—he fit in well last year, he’s bigger than Bullock and CDR, he’s a perfect fan favorite—but he was, well, not good in long preseason minutes. And if he gets back to last year’s form, who’s the backup? I shudder at the possible three-guard lineups.
Murray: This team has some of the worst rebounding support from the wings in the league. And that’s with Paul willing to grab a rebound every quarter. Los Angeles gave up an average of ten more rebounds a preseason game to opponents, and while it’s good that Spencer Hawes is the first big man off the bench now instead of Glen Davis, it is a shame to look at J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, and Chris Douglas-Roberts and wonder if they will get ten rebounds a game between them.
Frankel: It’s still wing defense. Matt Barnes is older, and was never great in the first place. There’s a cadre of young guys with potential, but trusting young guys in the Western Conference Finals is scary.
Mesirow: The Clippers have talent all around the roster, but their biggest question mark is without a doubt on the wing. Can Redick stay healthy? Can Barnes find his shot? Will Bullock earn a significant role? The Clippers need their wings to command enough respect from opposing defenses to space the floor, and they also need them to play adequate D.
Partnow: Athleticism and defense from the wing spots. Along with big man depth, this was the glaring deficiency, and aside from drafting Reggie Bullock 2.0 (C.J. Wilcox), the team did very little on this front in what was a slightly disappointing offseason. If the Clippers have to go through OKC for example, who guards Durant? This is a problem for everyone, but aside from Matt Barnes, the Clips lack anyone who can even bother a rangy perimeter scorer like KD.
4. Aside from San Antonio and Oklahoma City (if healthy), who in the West is the biggest threat to LA?
Shagrin: Golden State? Dallas? Memphis? Jeez, the West is gonna be such a bloodbath.
Liu: They’re in the same division. The Golden State Warriors, with old friend Alvin Gentry, seems to have formed a lethal offense to pair with a suffocating defense that should cause fits similar to the seven-game series of last postseason. Remember that series went the distance despite Andrew Bogut’s absence. It’s a real rivalry.
Whalan: The Golden State Warriors. Draymond Green is Blake Griffin’s kryptonite (and has a history of getting under his skin). When healthy, Andrew Bogut is an elite rim protector (and could’ve proven the difference in last year’s playoffs). The length of Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and free-agent signing Shaun Livingston is already making my palms sweaty.
Evans: In the regular season, Golden State. They might not be as good as Dallas, or even Portland, but the Warriors could win the Pacific and force LA into a bad seed. In the playoffs, a healthy Memphis squad would, as ever, make for a nightmare first-round series.
Murray: Golden State. The focus for that team has been on making their offense one of the NBA’s best, but they came up due to their defensive improvement. If they don’t slip on that end of the floor, they could win the division.
Frankel: Although they’re a degree lower than the Spurs and Thunder, the next biggest threat is the Warriors. Klay Thompson looked incredible in the preseason and most stats-based models love them.
Mesirow: After last season, it’s hard to pick any team other than the Warriors, but I expect both teams to finish in the top four (likely two and four), so I want to go a different direction. In a playoff series, I think the Mavericks are legitimately scary—Carlisle is a wizard, Dirk is an assassin, Monta is a goblin, Tyson Chandler is a beast, and I’d rather not see the Clippers playing D&D with them in April.
Partnow: Golden State. A little bit more offense and the Warriors are suddenly an elite top-10 offense/top-10 defense squad. With Steve Kerr around, presumably bringing some ball- and player-movement with him, I expect an offense that begins to match the talent level.
5. How far will the Clippers go this year?
Shagrin: Conference semis. It’s sad but there appears to be no feasible route past Oklahoma City or San Antonio. Sure, the Clippers gave the Thunder a run for their money last year, but Durant hadn’t been himself all playoffs, shooting well below his season average from the field. And then San Antonio because, well, ya know.
Liu: Since I’ve gone on record as predicting a Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference Finals, I think the Clippers lose to a rejuvenated and healthy Kevin Durant-led Thunder in the conference semis.
Whalan: The Clippers will avenge some of the capitulation that was Game 5 against the Thunder but the West is just too brutal. All of last year’s playoff contenders have improved, and unless the Clippers defense progresses significantly, the team will find itself in shootouts again during the postseason before falling short to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Evans: The Finals. Chandler can’t make up for Dallas’s defense in the back-court; Brooks still coaches OKC; Griffin can pull Duncan out of the lane at one end while Paul defends Parker at the other. Plus, Rivers, Paul and Griffin are just too smart not to have learned from the last few years.
Murray: They’ll win a playoff series. That’s it.
Frankel: I think they make it to the Western Conference Finals, beating Golden State in the second round, and playing the Thunder, fresh off of beating the Spurs, next.
Mesirow: As everyone knows by now, the Western Conference is completely stacked, and every playoff team will be fully capable of knocking off any other. That said, I like the Clippers to advance to the Western Conference Finals; going farther is entirely plausible, but I think it would be a (very pleasant) surprise.
Partnow: I think they make the second round again where matchups more than anything determine how far they will progress Not to be Debbie Downer, but I don’t think they did enough this offseason to be more than long shot contenders to win the West, despite the likelihood of many, many regular season wins.
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