NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

Projected Record: 55-27 (3rd in West)


Blake Griffin, Chris Paul
Is it finally the high-flying Blake Griffin’s year? (AP)

Head coach: Doc Rivers
2013-14 record: 57-25
2013-14 ORtg: 109.4 (1st)
2013-14 DRtg: 102.1 (T-7th)
Players in: Steve Ballmer (owner), Jordan Farmar, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Wilcox
Players out: Donald Sterling (owner), Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Danny Granger, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins, Hedo Turkoglu
Projected Starting Lineup: Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan

No group of professionals, basketball players or otherwise, deserve to endure working for an individual as contemptible as Donald Sterling, and the Los Angeles Clippers enter this season with a higher morale from the mere fact that the NBA has disposed of him.

The team seeks to improve upon a relatively successful ’13-’14 campaign that earned them a 57-25 record, good enough to capture a Pacific Division title and a third seed in the West. The team can expect to improve based off the factors: the continued growth of its superstar Blake Griffin; a bit of continuity with its roster and coach as Doc Rivers enters his second year in LA; and an offseason theme of “addition by subtraction” with Sterling gone and Jared Dudley shipped off as well.

Still, it’s hard to see that being enough to take the top spot in the conference. The Brooklyn Game projects the Clippers to finish at 55-27, again taking the Pacific and finishing third in the West.

Offensively, they finished first in the league with a offensive rating of 112.1 points per possession. The offseason acquisition of pick-and-pop extraordinaire Spencer Hawes and former Nets guard Jordan Farmar may actually increase the offensive efficiency of a team that can flat out knock down threes.

Like any Rivers-coached squad, the focus is on defense. Rivers brought some toughness and the same defensive scheme that won him a title with the Boston Celtics, but it didn’t really change much. Let’s not disparage the defense: after all, the team remained a top-10 defense, ranking 9th in the league. But they actually dropped a spot from the year prior.

DeAndre Jordan improved as a defender, but he cannot remain on the court during crunch time because of poor foul shooting. His new backup Hawes brings a ton on offense as a pick-and-pop shooter, but little on defense. The team’s best big, Blake Griffin is smart, athletic, and strong, but has to focus mostly on offense. This group may continue to have problems with the bruising big man duo in Memphis.

Their wing defenders are solid, Matt Barnes in particular. Second-year-man Reggie Bullock projects as a better defender in the league but has seen little court time prior to this season. Starting shooting guard J.J. Redick is actually underrated as a defender. A good group overall, but can you see them locking (or even slowing) down Durant? Throwing a wrench into the Spurs superior system? I think not.

Chris Paul can still get the job done as the league’s top point guard, though he still can’t handle D-Will’s crossover. Jamal Crawford is as bad it gets. Farmar will struggle on defense too. It’s a focused team but missing one piece to put it over the top.

If this team played in the Eastern Conference, it could very well win 60 games and give the Cavaliers all they could handle in a fight for the top seed. The Clippers starting five of Jordan, Griffin, Barnes, Redick, and Paul offers the type of floor spacing and knock-down shooting to put a real scare into Thibodeau’s Bulls, too. But, alas, they play in the West.

As good and as focused as this team is, it’s heading for nearly 60 wins, but no further than the Western Conference Semifinals. They should be much higher on your League Pass rankings.