By Adam Kerr
Just a few weeks ago, it felt like the Los Angeles Clippers’ season was over.
They traded away their depth and their future for an aging James Harden who had forced his way out of his third team in a couple of years. It was a bold move – a very controversial one among NBA fans across the country – yet they couldn’t be blamed.
They had the opportunity to pair James Harden with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George before they accepted defeat with this core and went back to the drawing board. Starting off with the league’s newest big 3, they couldn’t get a win. They lost six straight, including a heartbreaker vs. the West’s 13-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Amid the slump, Coach Lue said to give them ten games, and he was right. The Clips are reeling, coming right off of a nine-game win-streak. During the streak, Kawhi Leonard is a 30 PPG scorer, James Harden is nearly averaging a 19–point double-double, and Paul George is still his bucket-getting self. The only move worth noting is that they picked up Daniel Theis after being dropped by the Pacers.
This may not sound like a big deal, but he has a +30 Clippers plus-minus and his stint in L.A. coincides quite nicely with their current run. Obviously, however, Daniel Theis isn’t the main reason for the Clippers’ recent streak. In the streak, they have averaged 122.4 points and allowed just 778 points. Both of those stats rank sixth in the league, which means it would be hard for most teams to truly outplay them this season. They’ve also beaten competitive teams, like the Mavericks, Pacers, and Knicks. All of these stats are great, of course. But what are the odds they can be a real contender in the playoffs?
All of these stats are great, of course. But what are the odds they can be a real contender in the playoffs? Well, they have jumped all the way up to fourth in the west, behind only the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Nuggets. Seeing that they currently have home court advantage in the postseason, they’ve compensated for their losing streak and then some. This isn’t one of those situations where a team starts off so terribly that they’re spending all season coming back from that record.
The Clippers are already firmly in the playoff race and there are still three quarters of an NBA season to go. Of course, trades have been so rampant in the past few years, so one move can completely shake up the conference and make another team they will have to compete with. On top of the Lakers, Pelicans, and Rockets, the Suns & Grizzlies are poised to be competitive with Ja back and Phoenix’s big 3 hopefully staying on the court together.
The only question is their depth issues and their stars’ injury history. Kawhi has played every game so far, something unheard of when it comes to the two-time Finals MVP. Paul George and James Harden are also not unfamiliar with injury, but they have both been very available so far. In recent years, Kawhi has missed time in the postseason, leaving Paul George alone. Last year, both ended up missing time, and Russell Westbrook was the sole survivor.
This is something to keep in mind, though, because if there is the case where most of the big 3 is out, Westbrook will almost certainly step up and keep the squad competitive. The former league MVP is no stranger to big moments and can help any team hold its own in any situation, even at this point in his career. Even with Westbrook ready to get to work, the depth is undoubtedly a problem.
Their bench is headlined by Norman Powell and Bones Hyland. Both are players who anyone would love to have on their team, but that’s about as far as this bench stretches out. If the best players on the team are ready to play 40+ minutes in a tight playoff series, they will be fine. But if they can’t, they might need to wait until Free Agency to acquire quality bench pieces on veteran minimums.