The NBA season is well into its final stretch. Seven teams have been eliminated from playoff contention, and eight more await their fate in the newly-added Play-In tournament which starts on May 18th. Teams are attempting to ramp up to playoff level intensity and matchups are starting to take shape, including a few possibilities for the LA Clippers potential playoff matchups.
Seeding Wiggle Room Out West
Each NBA team has either three or four games left in their season, and only one team is actually locked into their current position in their conference; the Houston Rockets at the 15th seed in the West. Six teams can only move up in the standings, six teams can only move down in the standings, and 17 different teams can slide in either direction before the season officially ends this week.
Among the teams that can move in either direction are the Los Angeles Clippers, currently sitting at the three seed out West. In a best-case scenario, the Clippers could theoretically pass the Suns for the two seed, though it’s not likely. Even if the top-seeded Utah Jazz lose the rest of their games, the Clippers are no longer in contention for the one seed. However, they can also be surpassed by the Denver Nuggets if they don’t take care of business in their final week of the season.
Currently sitting across from them in the standings as the six seed are the dangerous Portland Trail Blazers, yet another team that could potentially slide in either direction before the postseason. Currently residing just above Portland in the standings are the Dallas Mavericks, sitting just half a game above the current six seed. Though Dallas can no longer pass Denver for the four seed, they are still very much able to fall below Portland, matching them up against the Clippers in round one should the Clippers hold their current standing.
Finally, the Clippers potential playoff matchups field is rounded out by a familiar foe, the Los Angeles Lakers. The storied franchise has solidified themselves at least a chance to advance in the Play-In Tournament, though they hold the ability to climb out of it to the five seed or to fall to the bottom of the field as the ten seed. Within this range lies multiple possibilities of a cross-town first-round matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
Clippers Potential Playoff Matchup: Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers have once again been decimated by injuries this season. A slow start from Superstar guard, Damian Lillard, paved the way for CJ McCollum to have his best start to an NBA season ever, only to be sidelined for multiple weeks with a broken foot. Along with the star shooting guard, rising big man, Jusuf Nurkic, saw his season shortened by a broken arm.
Despite the injury woes, Lillard and the Blazers managed to stay relevant in the playoff picture thanks to the help of a plethora of wing depth including Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr, and Gary Trent Jr who was eventually traded for the sharp-shooting Norman Powell.
As a team, the Blazers rank 2nd in 3-pointers attempted and made and 2831 and 1086 respectively, as well as 6th in 3P% at 38.4% as a team. They also rank well in free throw shooting and total points scored per game at 3rd and 5th respectively. However, they have a glaring weak spot as the 28th best 2-point shooting team and the worst team in the league at sharing the ball with only 21.3 APG, good for 30th in the league.
In three games against the Blazers this year, the Clippers won all three contests by an average margin of victory of 13.7 PPG. They won the rebound battle in two out of three games (tied in the third game) and won the assist battle in all three games. In their final matchup of the season, the Clippers narrowly escaped with a 1-point victory despite being without Superstar forward, Kawhi Leonard.
Damian Lillard has only suited up against the Clippers twice this season and has been held to astonishingly low numbers in both contests. Despite his season averages of 28.7 PPG and 7.6 APG on .445 – .390 – .929 shooting splits, Lillard has been held to only 15.5 PPG and 5.0 APG on .179 – .071 – .909 shooting splits. Yes, you read that correctly; Damian Lillard is shooting only 7.1% from distance in two games against Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and the LA Clippers this season.
While no playoff series is a given, this matchup seems to favor the Clippers greatly based purely on their success against this Portland squad this season.
Clippers Potential Playoff Matchup: Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic has put his “Luka Magic” on full display again this season, never more evident than when playing against the team that knocked his Mavs out of the NBA Bubble last season, the LA Clippers. Each of the three matchups between the Mavericks and the Clippers has been decided by double digits, only one favoring the Clippers. On December 27th of 2020, the Clippers suffered perhaps their worst loss in franchise history at the hands of Dallas. The Mavericks 50-pieced the Clippers, beating them 124-73 in an absolute embarrassment of a game.
To the Clippers’ credit, they responded well in their next contest, beating Dallas 109-99 on March 15th before falling to the Mavs by double digits yet again only two days later by a score of 105-89.
Doncic is averaging 30.3 PPG against the Clippers this season, his 7th highest against any single team in the league this season. He’s also averaging 11.0 APG against LAC compared to his total season average of 8.7 APG, not a comforting stat for Clipper fans.
On top of the Clippers’ seeming inability to contain Doncic, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both averaging well below their season scoring averages when matched up against the Mavs. Leonard falls from 25.1 PPG to 21.0 PPG, and George drops all the way from 23.5 PPG to 19.3 PPG when playing against Dallas.
After a stressful first-round playoff matchup last season, fans of both teams are likely praying that Dallas does not fall to the 6th seed to become the most likely Clippers potential playoff matchup for this season.
Clippers Potential Playoff Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers
The Clippers and Lakers have faced off three times this season, but LeBron James has only played in one of those games, while Anthony Davis has appeared in only two of the three. It’s hard to lean heavily on numbers when the teams meeting in the playoffs will be much different than those that met during the regular season.
If you do look into the stats, the Clippers have outperformed the Lakers in every single stat category this season other than blocks per game, free throws attempted, and free throws made. LAC has won all three contests by an average margin of victory of 16.3 PPG while outshooting the Lakers from the field and 3-point line in each matchup, as well as outshooting them from the free-throw line in two of the three contests.
Again, however, it is difficult to read too deep into these stats when LeBron James was only around for 1/3 of these matchups, and The King has proven to be a different beast come playoff time year after year.
Should the Lakers claw their way out of the Play-In Tournament and find themselves face to face with the Clippers in the first round, it will be series for the ages in LA.
Clippers Potential Playoff Matchups: Others
While the Blazers, Mavericks, and Lakers are not the only potential playoff matchups for the Clippers, they do appear to be the most likely scenarios. Other teams that could worm their way into the picture include the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Spurs. If the Clippers were somehow able to pass Phoenix for the two seed, they would earn the right to play the winner of the first Play-In game between the seven and eight seeds, which are currently the Lakers and Warriors respectively but could change drastically before the end of the season.
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