10:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Clippers -6, Over/Under: 225
Though both teams have long clinched a place in the 2019 NBA Playoffs, there is still plenty to be decided in terms of seeding on this, the final night of the Regular Season, as the Los Angeles Clippers host the Utah Jazz from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. For the third consecutive campaign, the Jazz (50-31, 5th in Western Conference) are back in the Postseason, and for third straight term they once again authored a strong finish to get there. After a poor start to the season which saw them at an uninspiring 18-20 by the New Year, Quin Snyder’s charges managed to once again flip the proverbial switch, particularly after the All-Star Break, where they’ve gone a stellar 18-6, thanks in large part to a return to health for many of their number, while also improving dramatically on the offensive end of the court. Before the Break, Utah averaged 109.2 Points on 46.1% shooting from the field, including 34.6% from beyond the arc, while dishing out 25.0 Assists in comparison to committing 14.8 Turnovers, though after that interval of intermission they’ve exploded to score 116.7 Points per Game on 48.4% shooting from the floor, including 37.7% from downtown, and handing out 28.2 Assists opposed to 14.5 Turnovers. Essentially, they’ve been far more efficient, utilizing better ball-movement, while also outworking their opponents on the glass even more so than usual, owning a whopping Plus-6.3 Rebounding Advantage. A huge component of this offensive surge has been the improvement of second-year Shooting Guard Donovan Mitchell (23.8 PTS, 43.2% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.4 BLK, 17.2 PER), who after an impressive showing as a Rookie in 2017-2018, endured what could only be referred to a Sophomore Slump in the early stages of this season. Before the All-Star Break, Mitchell was averaging 22.4 Points on just 41.8% shooting from the field, including a disappointing 32.2% from long-range, while adding 3.9 Rebounds, and 4.0 Assists, but since then has evolved into a modicum of efficiency, logging 26.7 Points per Game on 46.1% shooting from the floor, including a dramatically-improved 45.1% from three, along with 4.5 Rebounds, and 4.6 Assists. It’s amazing how a team’s fortunes can change once their stars play better. Shocking, we know… As we stated in the introduction, there is still much to be decided as to whom these teams will be playing, though after last night’s 118-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets, they now find themselves locked into the Five Seed out West, which in turn guarantees a First Round meeting with the Fourth Seed, the Portland Trail Blazers. In case you were wondering, the Jazz split their four matchups with their Northwest Division rivals, making for what should be a fairly evenly matched series for both sides. With their fate this weekend sealed, reports out of Utah have stated that Snyder will be resting many of his number for this affair, with the likes of Ricky Rubio (Left Quadriceps), Kyle Korver (Knee), and Raul Neto (Left Ankle) are all expected to miss the Finale in Los Angeles in attempt to be fresh for the advent of the Playoffs this weekend.
As we stated earlier, when we last saw the Jazz they had successfully locked up the Fifth Seed in the Western Conference Playoffs by besting the Denver Nuggets in a 118-108 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Behind their raucous fans, Utah held off Denver in large part to a superb showing from the aforementioned Mitchell, who matched a career-high with Forty-Six Points on 14-of-26 shooting from the field (53.8%), including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc (62.5%) and 13-of-16 from the Charity Stripe (81.3%), along with Seven Rebounds, four Assists, and a pair of Steals. The Sophomore started the affair scorching hot, scoring Seventeen Points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor (75.0%) in the first eleven minutes of action alone. His stellar shooting extended to the rest of his team, for by the end of the night, the hosts had shot 52.6% from the field, including 10-of-27 from downtown (37.0%), assisting on Twenty-Four of their Forty-One Field Goals, and calmly netting a prolific 26-of-34 Free-Throws (76.5%). Furthermore, they absolutely manhandled the visiting side on the glass, outrebounding them 48-31, leading to a 13-6 advantage in Second-Chance Points, with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (15.9 PTS, 66.9% FG, 12.9 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 2.3 BLK, 24.6 PER) totaling Ten Rebounds to accompany his Twenty Points, while both Derrick Favors (11.8 PTS, 58.6% FG, 7.4 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.4 BLK, 21.9 PER) and Jae Crowder (11.8 PTS, 39.7% FG, 32.8% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.4 BLK, 11.9 PER) added Seven Boards apiece. The towering Frenchman registered his twentieth Double-Double of the campaign, while doing the brunt of his offensive work in the Fourth Quarter, where to scored nearly half (9) of his point total. Favors returned the court for the first time this month, after missing the previous four outings due to Back Spasms, which should be a boon for this team in the Playoffs, thanks to his ability to not only spell Gobert for stretches, but also play alongside him.
Meanwhile, though there are plenty of great stories this season, the best may just be that OTHER team from Los Angeles, where the Clippers (47-34, 8th in Western Conference) have clinched a Playoff Spot, returning to the Postseason after a brief, one-year hiatus. After spending the last two season slowly deconstructing the entity formerly known as “Lob City”, jettisoning stars such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for a Franchise that is all too familiar with the term. Clearly, nobody told Doc Rivers that, for the venerable Head Coach may have just authored his most impressive coaching job this season, taking a collection of players that hardly looked like they could fit together, and cultivating them into a cohesive group that’s become greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s been a campaign of peaks and valleys for Los Angeles, who began the season on a torrid 15-6 stretch, before going 17-21 before the All-Star Break. Since the Break, Rivers’ charges appeared to be revitalized, winning fifteen of their first nineteen outings, though have struggled of late, dropping each of their past three affairs. During this current run, the Clippers have really come together on the offensive end of the court, averaging 116.3 Points per Game on 46.9% shooting from the field, including a scorching 38.3% from beyond the arc, while dishing out 25.5 Assists in comparison to committing 13.5 Turnovers. Furthermore, they’ve gotten he better of their opponents on the glass, outrebounding them by a Plus-0.9 margin, and have ramped up the pressure on the defensive end of floor, forcing 13.4 Turnovers, 7.8 of which have been Steals. Much of this success can be attributed to the fact that the wheeling and dealing has for all intents and purposes stopped, allowing the players a stronger sense of security, when coupled with a return to health for many of their number, led to that precious commodity, continuity. Veteran journeyman such as Lou Williams (20.0 PTS, 42.7% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 5.4 AST, 0.8 STL, PER) and Danilo Gallinari (19.9 PTS, 46.3% FG, 43.4% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.7 STL, PER) have thrived, with the former further staking his claim as arguably the most prolific Sixth Man in NBA History, while the latter has finally enjoyed a solid run of good health. Youngsters like Montrezl Harrell (16.5 PTS, 61.3% FG, 6.5 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.3 BLK, PER), Landry Shamet (10.8 PTS, 41.4% FG, 45.5% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.5 STL, PER), and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.9 PTS, 47.6% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, PER) have developed exponentially with more playing time, while veteran defensive stopper Patrick Beverley (7.6 PTS, 40.4% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, PER) has instilled a toughness and attitude that befits this ragtag group of underdogs perfectly. Coming into tonight’s Regular Season Finale, there is still plenty left to play for, for as it stands now, the Clippers own the Eighth Seed despite owning an identical record with the San Antonio Spurs. However the Spurs currently own the tiebreaker, which means that Los Angeles will have an unenvious date with Golden State in the First Round of the Playoffs. If they manage to win tonight, which is a real big IF considering their Injury Report (we’ll get into that shortly), and by chance San Antonio falls at home to Dallas, then they’ll move up into the Seventh Seed, where they’ll likely meet the Denver Nuggets. In case you were wondering, the Clippers are 1-3 against both opponents this season, though we would have to imagine that Rivers and Co. would prefer a date with the younger, less-experienced Nuggets than the Four-Time Western Conference Champion Warriors…
When we last saw the Clippers, they had dropped their third game in a row, this time an embarrassing 104-131 thumping at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Honestly, to think that this affair would have ended any other way than in the manner that it did is rather ridiculous, for given the circumstances, there really wasn’t any way that Los Angeles was escaping ORACLE Arena with a victory. The two-time reigning Champions were beyond energized in their final Regular Season Home Game played at ORACLE, and the visiting side was without the services of both Gallinari (ankle) and Beverley (hip), who are currently both listed as Day-to-Day with various ailments. After clinching a spot in the Playoffs, it’s understandable that Rivers would prefer to play it safe with his two veterans, particularly in this potential First Round Preview. With the contest relatively close at Halftime (62-55, in favor of the Warriors), things unraveled quickly in the Third Quarter, where the hosts exploded, outscoring the visitors 42-18. The Clippers would never come close to threatening the Dubs the rest of the way. On the night, Rivers’ troops shot 48.1% from the field, including 10-of-19 from beyond the arc (52.6%), and dished out Twenty-Six Assists, but proved to be very sloppy with the basketball, committing Twenty Turnovers, and squandered many of their opportunities at the Charity Stripe, netting just 18-of-29 Free-Throws (62.1%). Six different layers scored in double-figures, led by the aforementioned Shamet, who logged Seventeen Points on 5-of-8 shooting (62.5%), with all five of his Field Goals coming from downtown (5-of-6 3FG). In the end, this group simply couldn’t compete with Golden State for Forty-Eight Minutes, for the had their way with Los Angeles, particularly n the second Half, shooting a blistering 54.6% from the field, and assisting on a staggering Thirty-Four of their Fifty-Three Field Goals, while turning the ball over just nine times. Those Turnovers absolutely killed the visitors, with the defending champs turning those twenty miscues into Twenty-Nine Points.