The Clippers have met their expectations by being a contending team within the top three seed in the Western Conference. Some would argue that they underwhelmed expectations because they were hyped to be the top seed.
Another point of view suggests that rising dark horses such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks threaten the very hopes of the Clippers winning it all. The LA rivalry also continues to heat up as the Lakers seem to sit firmly atop the Western Conference.
The odds seem anything but fixed at this point of the season. What can the Clippers team possibly do to raise their chances of clinching the Larry O'Brien trophy?
1. Healthy Roster
It seems that the Clippers are taking "load management" to a whole new level this season, following Kawhi Leonard's lead last season when he rested chunks of regular season in Toronto, resulting in his heightened readiness during the Playoffs.
Paul George is the latest beneficiary of this scheme as the team continues to win games with their two Superstars taking turns to rest. Care has to be taken to ensure sufficient rest is also given to their pedigree bench, who are leading the NBA in bench contribution thus far.
Montrezl Harrel, Landry Shamet, Lou Williams and Patrick Patterson should receive their fair share of rest, maintenance and minutes restriction so that the strongest bench in the NBA conserves their ammunition for the Playoffs.
2. The Element Of Surprise In Line-up
Up to this point, the NBA has not seen a fixed starting line-up from the Clippers. To complicate things, the two Superstars were not always seen together in their line-ups. News even surfaced that the two Superstars have minimal practice together in an attempt to limit their activity and help the recovery of Paul George's shoulders and Kawhi Leonard's legs.
You can argue the conspiracy theory that this is all a smokescreen of Doc Rivers' coaching staff trying to muffle the true death line-up of the Clippers. Or you can suggest that the Clippers are trying to make it difficult for opponents to analyze their scouting reports on this team. Whatever theory you believe in, keeping the go-to line-up suspense is always helpful when it comes to playoff moments. Hence, the Clippers should keep this up.
3. Low Profile Communication
If the last season was any lesson, the Los Angeles Clippers should learn from the Lakers' bad publicity stunts when Magic Johnson openly declared each and every move that the Lakers' front office is intending to embark on. That backfired in the form of fines on tampering, as well as alerting rivals to heighten their guard and prevent such moves in advance.
With Hall of Famer Jerry West as their advisor, the Clippers sure know the importance of quiet deliberation, calm execution and secrecy in communication with external parties. If they keep this up regarding basketball operations, just like how they kept the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George acquisition quiet, the Clippers stand a good chance to make more good deals to bolster their chances at making a deep run in the playoffs.
4. Compete With Another Contender To Sign / Trade For an Elite Shooter
Teams such as Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat can always use the service of a premium shooter, especially during rotations against various playoff teams. Quality signings will become a hot commodity among contenders. Three-point specialists such as Joe Harris from Brooklyn Nets, Darren Collison, Doug McDermott from Indiana Pacers, Davis Bertans from Washington Wizards and Marcus Morris from New York Knicks are huge targets, if available.
Doug McDermott is a low-key quality player who ranks 4th in the NBA with 45.5% on 4 three-pointer attempts per game. Both Joe Harris and Davis Bertans are top shooters with a high volume of three-pointer attempts (Joe at 6.2 and Davis at 8.6) and accuracy (Joe at 9th with 42.7% and Davis at 7th with 43.4%). What's more, is that both have decent contracts in the range of seven million. Marcus Morris is another alternate candidate of choice with 45.4% accuracy, sitting at 5th in NBA on 5.8 three-pointer attempts per game but his contract is bigger at 15 million. Darren Collison will be a wild card as he has declared that he is returning to the NBA after a year of retirement.
If the Clippers can snag any of the three-pointer specialists that the rival contenders want, they effectively foil the rivals' plans, weaken their roster while strengthening the Clippers' own team.
5. Officiating Bias
Remember the years when Doc Rivers' teams got heated on the court? Remember those days when players like Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo or role players got under the skin of opponents during playoffs, resulting in technical fouls and ejections? Even the coach himself received one or two fouls or fines.
This season, the bulk of the Clippers roster have been on referees' good list. Nobody is leading the league in technical fouls or getting into unnecessary tussles. Unlike the Championship teams of Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, who have tough hustlers who often get on referees' nerves, such as Draymond Green and Dennis Rodman, this Clippers team generally plays defense smartly.
Having said that, we all know Patrick Beverley is the default go-to guy when the Clippers need to rile some feathers and get key opponent stars into foul trouble. This season, Patrick is already in the danger zone as he is ranked 5th in total technical fouls at 6 and ranked 7th in technical fouls per game at 0.21.
If the Clippers still want to employ this defensive specialist in their starting role and key assignments, they better find a way to teach Patrick Beverley to defend without triggering the whistles. If not, the Clippers are in danger of losing Patrick to ejections and fouls. They will also face a big void at the point guard role when it comes to defending in the clutch moments.
In retrospect, the Clippers are already looking like a playoff juggernaut. With the above mentioned extra precautions, their chances at winning it all will definitely increase a notch. All is left is for the Clippers to take proactive actions right now to secure that advantage.