10:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Clippers -12.5, Over/Under: 226.5
With just over a month left to go in the Regular Season, adversaries renew acquaintances as the Los Angeles Clippers meet the Golden State Warriors from Chase Center in San Francisco, California. With the five-year reign of their opponent coming to an abrupt end this year, the Clippers (43-20, 2nd in Western Conference) were tabbed by many to fill the vacuum of power out West, and now that they’ve finally managed to get just about everyone healthy and on the same page, they’re proving their backers right as they climb the Standings. If there was one team that won the Offseason, it was no doubt Los Angeles, who acquired not one, but two All-Stars, Kawhi Leonard (26.9 PTS, 46.5% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 7.5 REB, 5.1 AST, 1.8 STL, 26.6 PER) and Paul George (20.9 PTS, 42.9% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 5.9 REB, 3.9 AST, 1.3 STL, 20.1 PER), the former fresh off of earning NBA Finals MVP honors for the second time of his career via Free Agency and the latter arriving via a seismic trade. Los Angeles was a surprise entrant in the Postseason last year and gave the Golden State Warriors everything they could handle in their First Round Series with a vastly superior roster short on star power, so it’s only natural to think that Doc Rivers’ new group of charges would be better suited to challenge for what would be the franchise’s first NBA Championship. Of course, they’re better suited to accomplish that task. That’s not the point in question. What is a concern is that they’ve played fifty-eight games and have yet to truly reach their lofty potential in large part to injuries, load management of certain players (ahem, Kawhi), and the additions of more new faces to their growing Rotation. For those out there who hold team chemistry in the highest esteem, this particular cast of characters is utterly fascinating. Not only did they completely upend their Roster to acquire Leonard and George (which was a no-brainer), but the recent trade for Marcus Morris (10.4 PTS, 40.6% FG, 30.0% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 1.5 AST, 8.5 PER) coupled with the signing of Reggie Jackson (8.7 PTS, 48.9% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 3.6 AST, 14.0 PER) only brings more new faces into the fold for Rivers and his Coaching Staff to integrate. Is there enough minutes (and shots) for everyone? Can anyone tell what their ideal Starting Five will be come the Playoffs? Will they have enough time to get everyone on the same page? These are all very legitimate questions that need to be answered over the final twenty-four contests for as we’ve seen in the past, the pairing of superstars doesn’t always lead to immediate rewards, it takes time to cultivate said chemistry. And there is no better example of this than the fact that the two-man combination of Leonard and George has only featured together 706:28 thus far, which is the thirteenth most-prevalent combination on their roster, or in other words, has been on the court together for a scant 23.6% of game time. Due to Offseason Shoulder Surgery and other varying maladies, George has missed twenty-two games, while Leonard has yet again seen his playing time managed, which has been the case ever since his missed nearly the entirety of the 2017-18 term due to significant injuries to his Right Quadriceps and Shoulder, not to mention persistently butting heads with the San Antonio Spurs’ Medical Staff. With that said, that has gone 6-2 since the All-Star Break, which included a six-game winning streak featuring a healthy margin of victory of 17.0 Points per Game. However, that run was snapped on Sunday in the club’s third major showdown with their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the home side fell 103-112 defeat. After besting their neighbors at STAPLES Center in each of their previous two meetings, Rivers’ troops struggled down the stretch (50-63 in Second Half), shooting a miserable 39.5% from the field, including just 7-of-31 from beyond the arc (22.6%), committing more Turnovers (15) than Assists (12). Leonard and George combined for Fifty-Eight Points, accounting for Seventeen of their side’s Twenty-Eight Free-Throws, but the rest of the team didn’t offer much production, particularly the Starting Five managing a scant Eight Points. Where the Clippers found success in turning the Lakers over in their first two encounters, they were sloppy when in possession this time around, with the visitors scoring Twenty-Three Points off those mistakes. The loss dropped them to six games out First Place in the West, though they’re still a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who they humbled last week 132-103, in Second Place. Facing off against the Warriors should spark the turnaround, for this has been one of the hotter rivalries in the league in recent years, with Leonard’s acquisition proving to raise the bar even higher. Of course, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year played a huge role in dethroning the NBA Champions last Summer, averaging 28.5 Points, 9.8 Rebounds, 4.2 Assists, 2.0 Steals, and 1.2 Blocks as the Toronto Raptors eliminated the Dubs in Six Games. These two sides have met twice already this season, with the Clippers unsurprisingly defeating them, the first tilt a 141-122 blowout on Opening Week, and the second affair a tighter 109-100, though the outcome remained the same.
Meanwhile, my oh my what a difference one year can make. For five seasons, the Warriors (15-49, 15th in Western Conference) ran roughshod over the rest of the NBA, putting together one of the most successful dynasties in league history, advancing to five consecutive NBA Finals, in which they claimed three Larry O’Brien Trophies, largely on the strength of some outrageous star power, featuring MVPs, Scoring Leaders, and All-Stars. However, everything came to a head in last year’s Finals, where Golden State limped into a six-game slugfest with the Toronto Raptors, falling apart at the seams. Kevin Durant would miss the first two games of the Series before ultimately tearing his Achilles in Game Three, while sharpshooting Guard, Klay Thompson, would tear his ACL in Game Five, with even reliable veteran, Andre Iguodala, relegated to the Bench with a nagging Bone Bruise in his leg. Robbed of much of their firepower at the most inopportune of times, Steve Kerr’s charges were predictably ran off the court, though nobody could possibly predict just how that fateful Series would alter their trajectory for this campaign and beyond. Durant would part ways with the franchise in Free Agency, along with Iguodala, who was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies in a classic salary dump. Thompson, rehabbing from his torn ligament, has missed the entire season to boot. With that said, Kerr and the rest of his Staff knew that was going to be the case coming into 2019-20, but undeterred, they even added D’Angelo Russell (23.6 PTS, 43.0% FG, 37.4% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 6.2 AST, 19.1 PER) in Free Agency to fill that void in the Backcourt. What they didn’t plan for was two-time MVP, Steph Curry (20.8 PTS, 40.2% FG, 24.5% 3FG, 5.2 REB, 6.6 AST, 1.0 STL, 21.7 PER), breaking his hand just four games into the term, forcing him to miss the following FIFTY-NINE GAMES. Needless to say, this is not how their Owner, Joe Lacob, planned on opening his brand new arena, Chase Center, which has served as more of a commune for a spoiled fan base than a modern mecca of basketball. And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you go from the penthouse to the outhouse, with the Warriors languishing in Last Place in the Western Conference with a whopping Forty-Nine Losses, which equals their total of defeats in last two seasons combined. Looking ahead, this is a franchise firmly planning for the future, likely armed with a healthy Curry and Thompson along side what very well could end up being the No. One Overall Pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, which will be a highly-touted prospect or a powerful bargaining chip depending on their view. In the meantime, Kerr & Co. are no doubt happy to have Curry back on the hardwood, with the Point Guard finally making his long-awaited return in last Thursday’s Finals Rematch with the Raptors. In his first action since late October, the 31-Year Old certainly looked rusty, but also gave the faithful at Chase Center something to get excited about, scoring Twenty-Three Points, with Six Rebounds and Seven Assists. Sure he only shot 6-of-16 from the field (37.5%), including 3-of-12 from downtown (25.0%), but that really wasn’t the point. The point was that one of the league’s great entertainers was back to do exactly that. This affair was a close one, with the hosts trailing but just a single point heading into the Fourth Quarter, though they would eventually run out of gas as the visitors outscored them 32-25 in the final period. With former Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green (8.0 PTS, 38.9% FG, 27.9% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 6.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 12.6 PER), out with a sore knee, there were still some positives to take away from the encounter, with the threat of Curry’s shooting providing better spacing and ball-movement, as Golden State logged Thirty-Four Assists with five different players scoring in double-figures. The mercurial Andrew Wiggins (19.3 PTS, 45.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.5 STL, 1.5 BLK, 17.6 PER), who was traded at the Deadline for the aforementioned Russell, totaled Twenty-One Points and Ten Rebounds, while Curry’s Brother-in-Law, Damion Lee (12.8 PTS, 41.8% FG, 35.5% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 2.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 12.8 PER), played well with Twenty-Three points of his own. Rookie Forward, Eric Paschall (14.0 PTS, 50.0% FG, 28.8% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 2.0 AST, 14.5 PER), added Sixteen Points, Four Rebounds, and Eight Assists off the Bench, while Marquese Chriss (9.3 PTS, 54.5% FG, 20.5% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.1 BLK, 19.5 PER), a young talent on his fourth team in three years, added Seventeen Points, Twelve Rebounds, Four Assists, and a pair of Blocks. At this point of the season, Kerr is giving these young guns an opportunity to make an impression an attempt to see who can contribute moving forward when this team becomes whole again. In the meantime, expect them to keep playing out the string, while Curry shakes off all that rust.