The Clippers get things kicked off tonight with a showdown in Portland against those delightful Trail Blazers. It'll be the first of three regular season chances for the Clips to exact a measure of revenge on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last April, but the season's first couple of weeks bring a few other tasty matchups, too.
Robert Flom and I went back-and-forth regarding which other opponents the Clippers will face in the season’s first few weeks we’re looking forward to seeing.
Robert: I can't wait to see the Clippers in action tonight, and I've been looking forward to this game for weeks now. However, the game I'm most excited to see in the first couple weeks of the season is the contest against the Spurs on November 5. Despite San Antonio's beatdown of the Warriors on opening night, I remain convinced that the Clippers are going to be better than the Spurs this year, and that they also matchup really well against them.
This will be their first test against the Spurs, or against any projected top team, and it will be interesting to see how the Clippers perform. What's your most anticipated early game?
Taylor: You obviously can't go wrong with any San Antonio matchup, but I'm casting an eye toward November 12 when the Clips head north to take on the Wolves. I'm not at all convinced yet that Minnesota is making the leap to the postseason this soon, but they figure to be one of the few teams that can match (and probably exceed) LAC's athleticism. The Clips will be on the second night of a back-to-back after having to deal with Westbrook and friends the night before, so that could work to level the playing field a bit.
I'm definitely not worried that the Wolves are strong enough this season to challenge the Clippers for a top-three seed, but is there a dark horse team out there you're worried could topple expectations and emerge as a strong challenger at the top of the West?
Robert: I think the Jazz aren't really a dark horse candidate, but I believe they are the best bet out there to crack that top-tier. The Rockets are going to give up too many points, the Blazers didn't add any pieces over the offseason, and the Grizzlies are too injury prone. The Jazz won 40 games last year, massively improved their point guard situation and their bench, and have young players who should get better this season. All these upgrades should push them to near the 50 win mark, and their size and athleticism will make them a tough out for any team in the playoffs.
What are your thoughts on the Jazz?
Taylor: I'm definitely one of the many buying into the Jazz. It's really just a matter of health, as they've already kind of been slammed by injuries and the season just started. Gordon Hayward's out a few weeks and Derrick Favors has been bothered by a bone bruise on his knee for a while now. As long as they're able to avoid major, long-term injuries to their core group there's no real reason they can't contend for home court advantage.
The West looks wide open after the top three, and I think the Rockets and Grizzlies will also be in the mix. Houston will hemorrhage points but they seem to have the makings of a phenomenal regular season offensive juggernaut. Memphis has the talent, but as you said, they've got some guys that have been nagged by injuries over the last several years. Chandler Parsons is a true X-factor, though I'm not overly optimistic about him after his second knee surgery in as many years. Portland strikes me as something of a wild card.
I feel pretty comfortable in saying those four make up the second tier of the conference before a pretty stark drop-off. Thoughts?
Robert: I'm completely alone in this (which means my opinion is probably wrong), but I like the Pelicans (IF Jrue Holiday comes back reasonably soon). Anthony Davis may not be an MVP candidate yet, but he's still an elite player, and Holiday is a really good point guard. They didn't sign big names this summer, but they did acquire young-ish rotation players who are at least serviceable on both ends with the possibility of improvement.
I think if all goes right (Holiday and Davis are healthy, and a couple of their young guys make mini-leaps), they could win in the low-40s, which puts them in the conversation for the 7 or 8 seed.
My favorite to win the 8th spot is actually the Thunder though. How high are you on the Durant-less Thunder?
Taylor: I can feel on the Pels a bit. It's really just a matter of Anthony Davis somehow surviving most of the 82-game schedule. (UPDATE: Holy hell, he dropped 50 points last night). It's not a bad roster, really, but they have too many health questions that need to be answered before I can buy.
I could see OKC sneaking into the playoffs by virtue of Russell Westbrook's revenge tour, but it's going to be tough. Outside of him, Steven Adams and half of Enes Kanter's game their roster really doesn't do a whole lot to inspire. Can Victor Oladipo shoot well enough to serve as a workable sidekick for Russ? Is their small forward rotation really going to be Andre Roberson and Emo Kyle Singler for 82 games? They don't look very deep, which seems to put an awful lot on Westbrook's plate.
What's your rationale with them?
Robert: I just think the West is a bit overrated right now. This isn't the Conference of a couple seasons ago where 48 wins was the 8th seed. Most of the teams trying for a bottom playoff don't exactly have awe-inspiring rosters: the Nuggets, Mavs, and Wolves all have plenty of holes.
Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams is a better one-two punch than any of those teams have, and I believe in the rest of their roster just enough for them to sneak into the playoffs.
Taylor: The Clips face nine teams likely to be in the playoff hunt over the course of their first 11 games. Any worries they could get off to a slow start?
Robert: I don't think so. The Clippers are coming into this year healthy, and have the firepower and depth to be favored in any non-Warriors matchup. Their opposition is strong to start the season, but everything we have heard from Clippers’ players suggests a hunger for greatness, and I think they come out of the gates very strong. I'd put them down for 8-3, but I'm a born optimist.
Are you worried at all about the opening stretch?
Taylor: On the surface it could be a concern but things seem to always even themselves out in this league, regardless. Even if they do struggle record-wise I doubt it’ll negatively affect their long-term chances. Unless they randomly get obliterated each time they face a good team. That would be sliiiiiightly disconcerting. I agree, though. 8-3 would be a fantastic outcome and it wouldn’t surprise me.