Clippers sneaking into NBA elite


Injuries have largely shaped this NBA season. A condensed 72-game schedule over five months has led to injuries to key players on multiple teams that have altered title chances and shuffled award races. A few teams, like the Phoenix Suns, have been lucky and have not had to deal with such problems. But title favorites like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers have been largely incomplete as they wait for their stars to return.


The betting market has been pretty static despite the injuries to stars like Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden. DraftKings, FanDuel, SuperBook Sports and PointsBet have the Nets and Lakers atop the futures board for winning the NBA title, but what if we’re just taking for granted the greatness of these players and their ability to return from injury without missing a step?


Ironically, the team that was derailed by injuries and lack of continuity a season ago might be the team to beat when all is said and done.


Since the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Clippers have been the best team in basketball. They were 16-5 SU/15-6 ATS with a league-leading + 9.6 net rating. They were the best offense in the league, even better than Brooklyn, averaging 117.4 points every 100 possessions, and led the league in 3-point shooting by a wide margin. The Clippers have shot 42.1% on 34.5 3-point attempts per game. The next-best team is Milwaukee, which shoots just 39.3%.


Health has been a concern for Los Angeles as well, but the key difference is the health of their stars. Kawhi Leonard has played in 46 of 59 games. Paul George has played in 44. They are just 71 possessions from matching the total number of possessions they played together last season, and when they play together, Los Angeles is dominant.


According to Cleaning the Glass, when Leonard and George share the floor this season, the Clippers outscore opponents by 17.0 points every 100 possessions. They have an offensive rating of 125.1 with a defensive rating of just 108.1. They have played over 700 possessions more than James and Davis with the Lakers, and nearly 1,400 more than Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.


The Clippers are also getting better. In the first half of the season, Los Angeles finished 15th in defensive efficiency, giving up 111.5 points per 100 possessions. A look at NBA tracking data showed that Los Angeles actually ranked second in frequency of tightly contested shots but 26th in opponent field goal percentage on those shots. The Clippers were getting unlucky, and there was room for regression. Sure enough, this team is fifth since the All-Star break in defensive efficiency. However, the market does not seem to respect this team the way it does the Lakers or the Nets.


The Clippers can be found as high as 8-1 to win the NBA title at SuperBook Sports. At this point, that is a price worth investing in. Yes, the Western Conference has plenty of quality teams, but Los Angeles is power-rated higher than all but one other team. The Suns are winless against them this season, the Jazz lack a wing defender to handle Leonard and the Nuggets lost Jamal Murray for the season. The cross-hall rivals and defending champs stand in their way, of course, but the Clippers just happen to be 4-2 against the Lakers since the beginning of last season.


The Clippers are not a perfect team by any stretch. Serge Ibaka has missed 19 games and counting with a back injury, and Patrick Beverley is out about four more weeks after undergoing a procedure on his hand. That leaves Los Angeles precariously thin at point guard. But it is all about finding value on the futures board, and at 8-1, the implied probability is that the Clippers have just an 11.1% chance to win the NBA Finals. That is just too low when you consider the shape of the league around them.


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