Which team has the most to lose sports-wise due to the Corona pandemic? That is easy – the Los Angeles Clippers. About a year ago, the franchise was the big winner of the off-season, having added Paul George via trade and signed Kawhi Leonard as a free agent. And then at the 2020 trade deadline, the Clippers struck again by bringing in Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Joakim Noah – all good-fitting pieces to a roster that was already the most rounded in the NBA.

But … George and Leonard can both opt out of their contracts in 2021. In order to get George – which was the requirement for Leonard to sign – the Clippers had to give up their first round draft picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to Oklahoma City. The Thunder also have the right to swap first round picks in 2023 and 2025. What about the first round pick in 2020? That went to New York for Morris. And the 2021 first round pick? New York can swap with the Clippers if the pick is outside the top four.

So, yes, it is not an exaggeration to say that coach Doc Rivers’ team is all-in for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. The decision-makers around owner Steve Ballmer were clearly anxiously awaiting the re-start of the season, knowing they only have two chances for an NBA title with this team.

Things were more or less going well for the Clippers this season until February when the team lost focus and dropped four of five games – including giving up 142 points to Minnesota. Leonard, George and co. did regain the edge, save for an early March loss to the Lakers.

But now we are into late August and September and both superstars are both fully recovered from small minor injuries. And they lead probably the best roster in the playoffs with Patrick Beverley and Jackson at the point – both who can hit from long range as well. Beverley, George and Leonard are nightmares for opposing offenses on the wings with their athleticism and ability to switch. There are also scorer Lou Williams, energetic big man Montrezl Harrell, three-point specialist Landry Shamet, stretch big JaMychal Green, defender Rodney McGruder and rim protector Noah.

One of the question marks coming into the playoffs was at center, but the 23-year-old Ivica Zubac was more than solid against the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 11.2 points and 7.0 rebounds with 0.8 blocks in 25 minutes a game while committing just two total turnovers in 149 total minutes.

That showing was huge because everyone knew Kawhi would do his thing, and he displayed his laser focus in the playoffs with no talk of “load management”. Leonard averaged 31.8 points along with 10.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals in the Clippers’ 4-2 first round series win over Dallas. The Clippers will need him to be just as good in the Western Conference semifinals when they face the winner between Denver and Utah.

But all in all, the Clippers have everything they need to win the title – everything except time to waste.

by FIVE Magazine #171 – Playoff Preview: L.A. Clippers – Text: André Voigt

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