As soon as the Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason, Los Angeles immediately became NBA title contenders. And the Clippers have lived up to the hype, as they are one of the favorites to win the championship in the NBA's Orlando bubble.
The Clippers aren't just a title contender, they are the favorites to win the NBA title. These factors are what set the Clippers apart from their competition.
Perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, the Clippers needed the break that the COVID-19 pandemic foisted upon the NBA. The team was dealing with some nagging injuries that resulted in Leonard and George both missing chunks of the season and sitting out games due to load management concerns. Now that they have each had time to heal up and rest, the Clippers can put all of their energy into one push for a championship.
Rest, of course, does not guarantee that the players on the floor will be at their best when needed. But if having Leonard and George on the floor more consistently is possible in the playoffs, the Clippers’ chances of winning it all will surely be better than if they were on the floor at less than 100%.
While the Lakers and Bucks were largely healthy pre-pandemic, the Clippers might have caught up in the health department during the break.
They win on both sides of the floor
In the playoffs, it isn’t enough to be a great offensive team or a great defensive team. Real championship contenders are able to do both. And the Los Angeles Clippers fit that description, as their offensive and defensive numbers are both impressive enough to justify their status as title contenders. The Clippers are one of three teams in the NBA with an offensive and defensive rating in the top five in the NBA this season.
For context, the other two teams that fit that description are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, two teams that certainly have a legitimate chance to win the NBA Finals themselves this season. And the scary thing about the Clippers is that they could play even better than those numbers indicate, thanks to the improved health of Leonard and George.
They Live on the Boards
Rebounding is so important but it's often overlooked in favor of more attention-grabbing facets of the game. The Los Angeles Clippers are incredible at rebounding the basketball, though, and should be able to use that ability to their advantage against several teams that will be gunning for them in the playoffs. The Clippers rank third in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 48 rebounds per game, with the center position being a big key for them in cleaning the glass.
Some teams — such as the Houston Rockets — have gone away from having a center on the floor. But the Clippers have seen great rebounding production from their center tandem of Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell. The frontcourt duo have combined to average over 14 rebounds per game this season and should be able to contend with the Lakers’ duo of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, should the two teams square off in the Western Conference Finals.
They have Doc Rivers
The NBA is a players’ league, that much is for certain. But that doesn't mean that having a great coach isn’t a massive advantage for teams looking to get over the hump and win a title. In the case of the Los Angeles Clippers, they have Doc Rivers, who has proven with multiple franchises that he is capable of helping teams get deep into the playoffs.
Rivers is best known his time coaching the Boston Celtics, highlighted by winning a championship in 2008 with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as his top players. Rivers' success with the Clippers during the Lob City era might have been equally as impressive, as the team routinely made the playoffs despite a glaring lack of depth. This year, with a fully-loaded roster, Rivers’ championship experience could help the Clippers finally break through and get a ring.
They Don't Have to Worry About Homecourt Advantage
When you think of NBA teams with great fan bases, the Clippers probably don't come to mind. That is because Clippers have been a bad basketball team operating in the shadow of the incredibly popular Lakers for most of the franchise's history. So it stands to reason that the Clippers might actually benefit from playing this postseason at a neutral location in Orlando with no fans.
This will absolutely be the case in the late rounds of the playoffs when the Clippers would have to face the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. Both of those teams have rabid fans who would be at a fever pitch with the chance to win a title. And while Clippers fans would be charged up as well, their homecourt advantage would pale in comparison to the other top contenders for this year’s title. If one team is going to enjoy the silence of the bubble, so to speak, it's likely the Clippers.
They have great perimeter defenders
The phrase "defense wins championships" is typically used in football, not basketball. But it absolutely applies to this Los Angeles Clippers team, because they have some defenders that are extremely frustrating to go up against on the perimeter. Leonard and George have both been the best perimeter defender in the league at different points in their careers, and they're both capable of guarding some of the best players in the league.
Then you add Beverley into the mix, and the Clippers can defend outside of the paint better than most teams in recent NBA history. Beverley might be one of the dirtiest players in the NBA, but he's also capable of being a lockdown defender and getting into the heads of his opponents. That trio will be the cause of headaches for several teams in the bubble.
They have a winning record against the Lakers
It is expected that the winner of the Western Conference will come from Los Angeles this season. Fortunately for the Clippers, they have a winning record against the Lakers heading into the restart of the NBA season, which could bode well for them if the two teams were to play in the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers won the first two games against the Lakers that took place this season, with the Lakers emerging victorious in their final matchup before the stoppage of the campaign. It's never easy to get the better of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the Clippers managed to outperform their intra-city rivals in the current campaign. If they can repeat those results in the playoffs, the Clippers could punch their ticket to the Finals.
They have Kawhi Leonard
We might be burying the lede here, but the Clippers' biggest factor could be having the services of Leonard. Sometimes the NBA is as simple as just needing to have the best player on the court. Despite the greatness of LeBron and the Greek Freak, Leonard could easily be the best player on the floor in a playoff series. He carried the Toronto Raptors through last year’s postseason en route to that team’s first-ever NBA championship. Before that, he won a Finals MVP with the San Antonio Spurs. And this year, he might just do the same things for the Clips.
Leonard has become such an elite scorer that even the best defenders in the league have trouble guarding him. With Leonard healthier than he was for most of the season heading into the restart, the rest of the Western Conference is in big trouble.
They're incredibly deep
The most important factor that will help the Clippers win a title is their depth. A team can have the best starting lineup in the world, but that does not mean a thing unless they have the depth off of the bench. Fortunately, the Clippers have players who can come off of the pine and deliver in a big way and should be able to earn a championship because of them.
Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are the two key pieces on the Clippers bench that will decide the fate of the team’s season. Harrell is incredibly efficient from the field and averages seven boards per game to boot. And Williams, while not violating NBA bubble protocol at Magic City, is easily the best bench scorer in the NBA today.
If those two can continue to dominate in reserve roles, the Clippers will steamroll other second units en route to the championship.
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