DimeMag

The Restart Reset: What To Expect From The Los Angeles Clippers In The Bubble

After staging one of the wildest free agency coups in recent memory, the Los Angeles Clippers came into the 2019-2020 season armed with one of the most fearsome duos around the league in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. All this despite the fact that Kawhi had just won a championship in Toronto and George was still under contract with the Thunder.

You can now comfortably pencil in the Clippers as a perennial contender in the West, the perfect foil for their in-arena rivals in L.A., whose own superstar duo in LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just as formidable. And though the Lakers have managed to edge them out for the No. 1 seed in the West with a cushy 5.5-game lead going into Orlando, they are very much the biggest threat to the Lakers quest for title No. 17.

We won’t waste anytime before we see their final head-to-head matchup of the season, as the Lakers and Clippers will square off in prime-time Thursday night on TNT to help kick off the remaining seeding games in what could be a tantalizing preview of a potential Western Conference Finals showdown. They’ll be shorthanded for that game, with Montrezl Harrell still out of the bubble, Patrick Beverley waiting to clear quarantine, and Lou Williams in the midst of a 10-day quarantine. Eventually, they expect to have all three back for the playoffs, and when that happens, they’ll be as tough an out as any team in the league.

ROSTER

Patrick Beverley
Amir Coffey
Paul George
JaMychal Green
Montrezl Harrell
Reggie Jackson
Kawhi Leonard
Terance Mann
Rodney McGruder
Marcus Morris Sr.
Joakim Noah
Patrick Patterson
Landry Shamet
Lou Williams
Ivica Zubac

SCHEDULE

Thursday, July 30 — 9:00 PM — vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Saturday, August 1– 6:00 PM — vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Tuesday, August 4 — 4:00 PM — vs. Phoenix Suns
Thursday, August 6 — 6:30 PM — vs. Dallas Mavericks
Saturday, August 8 — 1:00 PM — vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Sunday, August 9 — 9:00 PM — vs. Brooklyn Nets
Wednesday, August 12 — 9:00 PM — vs. Denver Nuggets
Friday, August 14 — TBD — vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

STANDINGS

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20 (5.5)
3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22 (7.0)
4. Utah Jazz: 41-23 (8.5)
5. OKC Thunder: 40-24 (9.5)
6. Houston Rockets: 40-24 (9.5)
7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27 (11.0)
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33 (18.0)
9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37 (21.5)
10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36 (21.5)
11. Sacramento Kings: 28-36 (21.5)
12. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36 (22.0)
13. Phoenix Suns: 26-39 (24.0)

EXPECTATIONS

No surprise here, the Clippers have their sights set on bringing home their first championship in franchise history, a goal that eluded the Lob City crew that preceded this iteration of the team. George and Kawhi are among the very best two-way players at their position in the NBA, creating nightmare matchups that most opponents simply don’t have a solution for, and their depth and flexibility up and down the roster is head and shoulders above just about any other contender in Orlando. A tenuous 1.5-game lead over the Nuggets for the No. 2 seed makes the eight-game regular-season slate just interesting enough, but a relatively-light schedule leaves little cause for concern about them potentially slipping in the standings.

X-Factor

The X-factor could very well be that aforementioned depth. The Clippers are loaded, but finding the minutes to spread around in the postseason, when rotations tend to shrink, is something Doc Rivers will have to puzzle out as he goes along. Depending on the opponent, we could see markedly different lineups and rotations in each round of the postseason as Rivers navigates his depth chart to suit his size and defensive needs. Having all that talent and flexibility is a good problem to have.

Biggest On Court Question

With Kawhi once again load-managing his way through the regular season before the shutdown, it’s tempting to say that the biggest question is whether we have a large enough sample size of George and Kawhi together on court to draw definitive conclusions about their potential for dominance. When they have played together, they’ve been nearly as unstoppable as you might expect.

Their start in the bubble hasn’t exactly been ideal. Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, and Lou Williams all had to leave Orlando for personal emergencies, and in Williams’ case, it turned into a media spectacle that has required an additional 10-day stint in quarantine. Regardless, the Clippers should be back at full strength when it matters most.

The four-month-plus hiatus might have been the biggest boon for a team that has battled injuries all season — particularly George who says he is finally, fully clear of his shoulder issues. The question of whether they can stay healthy for the next few months might be the difference-maker in their quest to take home the organization’s first championship.

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