Inspired by Zach Lowe’s annual predictions column, we’re re-purposing the gimmick exclusively for Clippers-related takes.
1. Blake Griffin has a game with 15 assists
Blake’s only had 11 games in his career with double-digit assists, with three of those coming during his dauntless 2015 playoff run — and none last season. His personal record is 13, which he set in garbage time of the Clippers’ Game 1 romp in Houston; he’s reached a regular season-best 11 assists four times in his career.
But by all accounts Doc Rivers has finally embraced staggering, so Griffin should get more opportunities than ever before to run the offense and set up his teammates. It’s not hard to envision a perfect storm of a game where he acquires the Midas touch and every pass he makes leads to an easy dunk, or to a shooter who refuses to miss.
2. The Lakers break their losing streak
The Clippers have won 11 straight and 15 of 16 in this so-called “rivalry.” These games have become less of a statement and more of a tiresome social obligation for the Clips, who now sleepwalk through these contests until they’re forced to half-ass it for a few minutes in the second half.
That kind of lackadaisical effort won’t always fly against the most talented Lakers roster since the “hallowed” Dwight Howard era, a young team that will likely catch their cross-hallway rivals sleeping in one of these games. Like Minnesota or Denver at Staples last year, the Lakers will come out and surge to an early lead that the Clips could overcome if they muster just five minutes of solid two-way play. In one of these games this year, they never get those five minutes .
3. The Raptors are put in their place
Toronto has won four straight against the Clippers, but closer observation shows that several of those games have been played under odd or inopportune circumstances for L.A. Both games in Canada have come on the heels of controversial moments — the 2015 game was a back-to-back the night after the Clippers came undone in Cleveland in a nationally televised fiasco where they clashed with referees, and last season’s was right after the team found out about Griffin punching Matias Testi.
This season’s contests will end up being more reminiscent of 2014, when the Clippers beat the Raptors twice without CP3. Toronto will be on SEGABABAs for both meetings this year (the Clippers will be as well for the second game), and it’ll show in fourth quarters.
4. Mo Speights leads the bench in scoring
With all due respect to Jamal Crawford, Mo Buckets’ excellent preseason performance (where he was arguably the team’s second-best player behind Blake) bodes well and suggests he’ll be a great asset to the team coming off the bench. He scored 11.2 points in only 17.5 mpg without forcing the action too much to get his, ending up with a ton of open looks while playing within the system.
While the Clippers bench will take a step back defensively, they’ll make up for that and then some with their offensive proficiency. Led by Speights and Austin Rivers, the second unit emerges as a top-10 bench leaguewide this season, their lineup numbers boosted by increased minutes alongside Paul and Griffin.
5. Austin Rivers will be part of the Clippers’ best lineup
The Paul-Redick-Rivers-Griffin-Jordan quintet didn’t see much time together last year, but it looks like they’ll get more run this season. The Clippers are at their best on both ends of the court with another ball-handler and slasher in the lineup, and this group becomes one of their go-to lineups come postseason.
With an increased crunchtime role, expect Rivers to make his fair share of memorable plays in the clutch, especially on the defensive end.
6. Blake Griffin enters the MVP discussion
After recently saying that this is the healthiest he’s felt in years, a rejuvenated and motivated Blake Griffin attacks the regular season with newfound vigor, taking a higher percentage of his shots down low. He improves his midrange shooting to somewhere in the low-to-mid 40s, and replaces some of his long twos with three-pointers, which he shoots at close to a league-average rate.
As the Clippers claim the 2nd seed, Blake gets well-deserved consideration for MVP, ultimately ending up 2nd behind LeBron James. In spite of this, he somehow gets left off the All-NBA First Team in favor of Kevin Durant.
7. The Clippers finish the season on a 12-game win streak
Once the Clippers get past a home ABC date with LeBron on March 18th, the schedule the rest of the way is forgiving and very favorable to them. There’s not many difficult opponents in that closing stretch — the Jazz at home, and at San Antonio. The Clippers could conceivably run the table here, especially once they get to April and have multiple rest days in between games.
Under Doc Rivers, L.A. has always closed the season extremely strong (20-5 in 2014, 14-1 in 2015, 10-2 last season), and this year looks like more of the same.
8. The Clippers finish second in both offensive efficiency and net rating
Although the Clippers likely fall out of the top five defensively (thanks to Mo Speights) they should make up for it by becoming an elite offense again (also thanks to Mo Speights). I think they end up finishing second in both offensive and net efficiency in the regular season, behind only the Warriors. The Clips will threaten 60 wins and a +8.0 net rating, setting franchise records, and winning home-court advantage in a hypothetical Finals matchup against Cleveland that never comes to pass.
9. The Spurs get destroyed in the second round
The Clippers have never won a series in less than seven games, but there’s a first time for everything (including making the Western Conference Finals). San Antonio is old and slow, and outside of Kawhi will have zero answers for everything the Clippers can throw at them. The Clippers stifle Parker and Ginobili defensively, and the Spurs just can’t score enough points with the engine to their offense suffocated.
This might not end up being a sweep, but it’ll feel like one. Austin Rivers has a Goran Dragic moment or two during this series, and afterwards Charles Barkley boisterously picks the Clippers to upset the Warriors in the WCF and win a title (due to the Warriors being a jump shooting team, of course).
10. Chris Paul leaves in free agency
A bummer of a take to end these predictions on, but after listening to CP3’s appearance on JJ’s podcast and hearing him talk about how desperately he wants a title, part of me has a hard time seeing him stay after a decisive loss to Golden State in the Conference Finals. There’s not any free agent destination right now that seems like an upgrade over L.A., but the future can change quickly and you can’t take anything for granted. I think he’ll stay, but that gut feeling is too strong for me to ignore.