As of Wednesday, the Los Angeles Clippers are 32-11, good for the third-best record in the Western Conference.
The Clippers’ regular-season success has been very impressive to date. They are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA to watch and they have clearly improved from this time last year. What remains to be seen is how the Clippers’ regular-season success translates to the postseason. Here are five keys to the Clippers winning the Western Conference.
Chris Paul is out again with a knee injury and the Clippers are wisely being very cautious with him. Paul is arguably the top point guard in the NBA when healthy and he is the best player on a Clippers team enjoying their finest season in franchise history.
For the Clippers to win the Western Conference, it is not only imperative that Paul plays but that he plays at 100 percent. The Clippers’ depth could very well carry them through the first round of the playoffs but a tough Western Conference would likely prevent the Clippers from going any further without Paul. The Clippers are also expecting Chauncey Billups to return in the second half of the season, his veteran presence and clutch shooting will be valuable for Los Angeles come playoff time.
One of the Clippers’ strengths this season has been the play of their bench. The bench is averaging 41.6 points per game, best in the NBA. The Clippers have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA from top to bottom.
For the Clippers to realize their ultimate goal this must continue into the postseason. Head coaches typically shorten their bench when the playoffs arrive, but Vinny Del Negro would be wise to continue to use the team’s depth to his advantage.
Defending the 3-Point Shot
Last year’s conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs exposed a flaw that had plagued the Clippers throughout the year. That flaw for Los Angeles is defending the 3-pointer.
The issue was not just the 3-point shots that the Spurs were making, but it was that most of those looks were wide open. The Oklahoma City Thunder hit 15-of-27 from deep on Tuesday and the Golden State Warriors drained 12-of-22 from downtown on Monday. Both of these games resulted in losses for the Clippers.
Vinny Del Negro
Vinny Del Negro finds himself coaching the most talented team that he has had to this point in his coaching career. Del Negro’s lack of experience has caused his coaching ability to come into question at times.
Until a head coach has won a title or greatly exceeded expectations with an average roster, this will be the case. The playoffs are full of close games that demand the correct decisions be made in crucial moments. The plays and schemes that Del Negro uses coming out of late-game timeouts and the matchups that Del Negro chooses to utilize will go a long way in determining how far the Clippers are able to go.
Free throws are not a glamorous part of the game, but their importance always comes to light in the NBA playoffs. When games are often decided by only a few points, the failure to shoot free throws efficiently can be the difference in moving onto the next round and going home.
There are currently only four teams that shoot free throws at a worse percentage than the Clippers’ 71.2 percent mark.
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