Analyzing the LA Clippers before their run at postseason redemption
The Los Angeles summer is shaping up to be a good one – but it might not be due to the Lakers repeating as champions.
A quick look at the Western Conference standings shows that the LA Clippers are not only the class of southern California this season but also one of the best teams in the league.
The Clippers are third in the West, with a record of 43-21, the NBA's fourth-best mark overall.
But while they have been dominant so far this season, not everyone is a believer, including former Laker and seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry, who labeled the team "pretenders" heading into the postseason.
Although they did blow a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets last year in the Western Conference semifinals, Skip Bayless still sees the Clippers as legitimate contenders and explained why Thursday on "Undisputed."
"As Jeff Van Gundy said last night during the Clippers game, they have the best roster in the NBA, and I agree with that."
Undoubtedly, the Clippers are one of the NBA's most polarizing teams.
Let's take a deep dive on where they stand heading into the playoffs.
Where LAC stands
LAC is currently third in the Western Conference and only three games behind the first-place Utah Jazz with eight games remaining.
However, they sit only one game ahead of the fourth-place Denver Nuggets.
If the Clippers were to slide down one spot, they could find themselves facing the defending champion Lakers in the first round. Los Angeles currently sits fifth and is due to get LeBron James back from injury soon to join a fresh Anthony Davis.
Where LAC excels
The Clippers are, quite simply, one of the best shooting teams the NBA has ever seen.
They lead the NBA in 3-point percentage at 41.6%, and if that were to hold up, it would be the second-highest percentage in NBA history, behind that of the 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets, who shot 42.8%.
The Clippers' roster features seven consistent rotation players who are shooting at least 40% from 3-point range, and their leading scorer, Kawhi Leonard, is shooting 39.3%.
They also lead the NBA in free-throw percentage at 83.6%, which would be the highest mark in NBA history.
Where LAC falters
While the Clippers are shooting lights-out from deep, they are one of the worst teams in the NBA at putting pressure on opposing teams' interior defense.
Last season, they averaged 47.4 PPG in the paint, good for 15th in the league. This year, they have slipped further in that regard, averaging just 42.3 PPG in the paint, which places them 28th in the NBA.
That could prove to be costly in the postseason, where the pace of play slows down and opposing defenses key in on other teams' strengths.
The combination of both led the Clippers to the top-scoring bench unit in the NBA, with 50.3 PPG.
This season, the Clippers' bench is averaging just 38.7 PPG, with Williams in Atlanta and Harrell with the Lakers.
However, the Clippers might have swapped out the scoring for a much-needed dose of playmaking in the form of Rajon Rondo.
The veteran guard won a championship last season as a key reserve for the Lakers, and Kendrick Perkins believes he was the missing piece to push the Clippers over the top in the West.
"The only thing that the Clippers were missing was a floor general and a leader, and they got that with Rajon Rondo," he said on "SportsCenter." "A guy that is going to help out Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, get guys into their spots, hold guys accountable. He's a coach on and off the floor."
Can Kawhi and PG get it done?
This is the most important question that will decide the Clippers' fate this summer.
He is once again having a stellar season, averaging 25.7 points while contributing a career-high 5.1 assists per game.
But the key will be George.
He's a seven-time All-Star and is experiencing a career year in terms of field-goal percentage (47.5%), 3-point percentage (42.2%) and assists (5.3) while chipping in 23.7 PPG.
He's fully healthy this season after entering last season coming off double shoulder surgery and battling a hamstring injury as well.
If George can carry this level of play into the postseason, exorcising demons of playoffs past, the Clippers could very well break through to their first Western Conference finals and, possibly, beyond.
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