If I were to tell you that a team that made the Western Conference Finals last year is fighting for the eighth seed, you probably wouldn’t believe me.
Well, it’s true. And it just happens to be the tale of this year’s L.A. Clippers.
There’s more to this narrative, though: the team has played without its best player the whole season and lost its second best player to an injury early in the season. On top of this, the team played many of its games without many of their role players due to COVID protocols and continued injuries.
But the team, much like 29 other teams in this esteemed league, still has one goal: to win the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. And towards that end stands an arduous journey that all begins with qualifying for the playoffs.
It did seemingly get easier to make it into the playoffs as the number nine and 10 seeds of each conference also get a shot at making it into the 16-team tournament. At the same time, this also means that the seventh and eighth seeds, who would traditionally qualify for the playoffs, could be eliminated in the play-in tournament and left without a spot in the playoff bracket.
So, whatever the case, the lower-seeded teams will fight tooth and nail to secure their highly-coveted ticket to the postseason.
For the Clips to avoid playing in the play-in tournament, the team will need to finish as one of the top 6 Western Conference teams with the best record — this would entail the team dramatically cutting a 4.5 game differential between the Denver Nuggets.
That, unfortunately, in my opinion, does not seem all that likely when considering the type of basketball Jokic and the Nuggets have been playing as of recent. Especially if the L.A. team is playing without three of its top players in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Norman Powell.
But don’t count them out. I still see the Clippers making it into the playoffs, one way or another. And so does the DraftKings Sportsbook, the odds for them to make the playoffs are listed at -170.
Whether the team gets their two superstars back in time or not, the team is coached under the prudence of a highly-accredited head coach in Tyronn Lue, who holds an impressive 54-31 record in career playoff games.
He’s proven capable of making the most of the Clippers’ depth and using each weapon on the roster as a way to break down and come on top against opposing teams. Take, for example, when he decided to give a second-year Terance Mann major minutes against the Utah Jazz to turn DPOY Rudy Gobert into a defensive liability. And he’ll never give up: just this January, he helped the team come back from three deficits greater than 24 points (most in NBA history).
It’s also his ability to coach and adjust starting lineups and player rotations to help the Clippers thrive. Just last year, we stood in awe as Reggie Jackson turned himself into a legitimate second-option behind George: he averaged 17.8 points on 48 percent shooting from the field. Let’s also not forget Mann’s 39 points that erased a 25-point deficit against the Jazz and sent the Clips to the WCF (first in franchise history). This is the type of basketball a team plays should it try to get out of a mire-like play-in tournament — and the Clips might have what it takes up their sleeves.
The Clippers still have those weapons in their arsenal, and an exciting 21-game battle awaits them as they make their final stride for the playoffs.
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