Why the Clippers are the team to beat in West

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The Los Angeles Clippers are going to win the NBA Western Conference.

 

For those who follow my work here at the Vegas Stats and Information Network, this statement comes as no surprise. Before the postseason, Los Angeles was my selection to represent its conference, and nothing, aside from the Clippers being eliminated, will change my mind. When Los Angeles was down 2-0 in its first-round series against Dallas, I was asked during an interview if I wanted to alter my prediction given the hole the Clippers had dug themselves. I refused. I doubled down on my belief in this team by betting them to win the NBA Finals at 11-1 before Game 6 against the Mavericks. Many, like colleague Tim Murray, do not believe this team has what it takes to win the conference, but I think the Clippers check all the boxes of title contenders.

 

In eliminating Dallas and moving on to the conference semifinals, Los Angeles showed us what kind of a team it really is. The Clippers carved up Rick Carlisle’s zone defense, averaging 119.1 points per 100 possessions while shooting 39.1% on 35.8 3-point attempts per game. The Mavericks, beneficiaries of unsustainable shooting at the beginning of the series, had nothing against the Clippers defensively, putting up an offensive rating of 108.4 over the final five games. Kristaps Porzingis was an afterthought, Dorian Finney-Smith shot under 40% and Tim Hardaway Jr. was held to just 30% shooting from the perimeter over the final five games after a ludicrous start to the series.

 

Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard showed the basketball world he is still one of the best players on the planet. Just as Los Angeles seemed to have no answer for Luka Doncic, Dallas had no answer for the Board Man. Leonard averaged 32.1 points on 61.2% shooting in the series, and when the Clippers were faced with elimination he scored 73 points over two games on 70.0% shooting, finishing just one assist shy of a triple-double in a winner-take-all Game 7 at home. He is still the best player in the Western Conference among the remaining teams, and he leads a team littered with wings and 3-point shooters that will give anyone in its path a problem. 

 

Don’t believe in Paul George? He just put up a 23.6/9.0/5.7 stat line in the series against the Mavericks. Think Ty Lue is in above his head? His adjustment to a small-ball lineup with Nic Batum at center, and his benching of Ivica Zubac, arguably saved the series for Los Angeles. Reggie Jackson is in the midst of a career shooting year, and with him on the floor the Clippers have a 7.6 net rating. Jackson and Marcus Morris combined to go 39 of 94 (41.5%) from deep against Dallas. This team is deeper than it gets credit for, and with a dominant wing presence like Leonard as its best player, the ceiling is high.

 

Los Angeles finished the second half of the regular season fifth in defensive efficiency (109.7) and sixth in offensive efficiency (118.1), according to Cleaning The Glass. Those numbers added up to the second-best net rating in non-garbage-time minutes ( 8.4) in the league. The Clippers have been this team for three months, but there seems to be a hesitancy from the masses to believe in them. There should not be. 

 

In the lone regular-season matchup at full strength with Utah, the Clippers snuffed out the Jazz’s 21-1 SU run. In the two games against Phoenix in which Leonard played, they dominated the Suns, outscoring them by 8.2 points per 100 possessions. They hung an offensive rating of 116.8 on Denver in the regular season and would likely have the same success if they can make it past Phoenix.

 

How this team matches up with Brooklyn remains to be seen, but right now that does not matter. Los Angeles is the best team in the Western Conference, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be the last team standing.

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