NBA playoffs

Clippers 2020 playoff preview: Load finally managed?

JR Isaga
Done playing ‘little brother’ to the Lakers, the Clippers prove to be another Los Angeles force to be reckoned with

In a heated 2019 NBA off-season where multiple superstars changed teams, the Los Angeles Clippers came out of nowhere with a two-part bombshell that rocked the power balance of the league for the foreseeable future.

Shortly after signing one-and-done Toronto Raptors champion Kawhi Leonard, the team threw the league a curveball by quickly completing a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for last season’s MVP candidate Paul George.

In just two moves, Los Angeles’ “little brother” team sent a clear message that they are done being second fiddle in their own city after decades of being exactly that to the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite finding great success in the season so far, the Clippers have been plagued with injuries to their new stars, which has brought them both good and bad consequences.

Regardless, they are now a legitimate championship contender hoping to finally raise banner number one alongside the Lakers’ 16 at the Staples Center. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

Current roster composition

Whenever he is not out on the now-infamous diagnosis of “load management,” Leonard has provided the Clippers strong, silent leadership that translates extremely well on the court.

The two-time champion and Finals MVP has not missed a step, averaging career-highs across the board with 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5 assists in just 32.2 minutes a game.

Although his new All-Star partner George has not seen the same level of consistency since his recovery from shoulder surgery, he has still put up decent averages of 21 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals in just 29.1 minutes a night.

Because the Clippers’ top stars have frequently battled with injury management all season long, this has allowed their bench duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to flourish as the undisputed best reserves in the league.

Williams, already a three-time Sixth Man of the Year awardee and the reigning winner for the past two years, is on track for a third-straight citation with stellar averages of 18.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds on 29.3 minutes per game.

But the 6-foot-8 Harrell is giving his teammate a run for his money with the award as he is currently norming 18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 58% shooting in just 27.8 minutes a night.

The long list of reliable role players doesn’t end there as the Clippers also have scoring guard Reggie Jackson, scoring forward Marcus Morris, sniper Landry Shamet and former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah ready to come off the bench for a boost.

Apart from Leonard, the entire Clippers roster is full of motivated in-prime players and veterans all hungry for a taste of their first NBA championship.

Even when not at full strength, the team is already a force to be reckoned with as scoring bursts and defensive stops can practically come from anyone.

Just imagine the damage a fully-rested and healed Clippers squad can actually do.

Grade: 9/10

Rest-of-season outlook

Remaining games: Lakers, Pelicans, Suns, Mavericks, Blazers, Nets, Nuggets, Thunder

The Clippers will have the first game of a lifetime at the Disney World Orlando bubble as they are set to face none other than the “big brother” team LA Lakers led by MVP-caliber stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

They can then fine-tune the smaller details in their game plan as they face other motivated Western squads like the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Given their 44-20 record as the second seed in the West, the Clippers can focus more on perfecting their chemistry rather than chasing wins.

Right now, their own worst enemies are themselves and their health. If that has been taken care of in the season’s downtime however, then the Clippers may very well go the distance and win it all.

Los Angeles will forever be Laker country and the Clippers are not looking to declare independence, at least not yet. But they want their own moment of glory and no one can deny them that.

Grade: 9/10

– Rappler.com