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Are the Clippers a Legit Playoff Team?

clippers-playoffs-lou williams

When the Clippers traded their best player to Philly at the deadline, it seemed inevitable that they would miss the playoffs. However, since sending Tobias Harris to the 76ers, L.A. is 9-4, and they’ve won their last five contests. The Clips are the second hottest team in the West and their 8-2 record across their last ten trails only the Rockets’ own 9-1 record.

They currently sit at the sixth seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, and they’re five games ahead of the ninth-seeded Sacramento Kings, essentially ensuring them a playoff slot with less than 15 games left in the season. Furthermore, the Clippers are just 2.5 games back of the 4th seeded Thunder and two games behind the 5th seeded Trail Blazers.

The Clippers Remaining Schedule

As of right now, ESPN has the Clipper’s remaining schedule as fifth easiest in the NBA, however, the two teams closest to them in standing have even easier schedules. The Jazz’s schedule ranks as the easiest in the NBA, and the Spurs rank third. While the differences in their schedules aren’t substantial, it does beg the question of whether L.A. can hold the sixth seed over Utah and San Antonio or not.

Unless the Clippers go undefeated, it’s unlikely they’ll catch any of Golden State, Denver or Houston. However, Portland, whose schedule is slightly harder at seventh, and Oklahoma City, whose schedule is substantially more difficult at 21st, could potentially slip in the standings, allowing the Clippers to catch up.

To close out their final 14 games, the most difficult games they’ll play are against the Bucks, Rockets, Warriors and Jazz. Aside from the Blazers, Pacers and Nets, all of whom are beatable teams, the remaining seven games are against below .500 teams.

The Clipper Lineup

clippers-playoffs-lou williams-montrezl harrell-bench
The Clipper bench is arguably the best in the league, and it starts with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Photo courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
The Second Unit

The primary advantage that the Clippers have over any other team in the league is their bench. The Clipper bench ranks first in points per game with 53.0. Their bench is also first in assists, second in rebounds and field goal percentage, seventh in steals and blocks and they own a point differential of 14.3, which is second in the league.

The Starters

On the flip side however, the Clipper’s starting five is statistically one of the worst in the league. To be fair, Clipper starters average a minuscule 27.5 minutes per game, which ranks 28th (of 30) in the NBA. This makes the Clippers’ bottom four ranking in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks much easier to stomach. The only concern is that the team ranks 26th amongst starting lineups with a point differential of -14.7. This essentially means that the 14.3 differential that the bench builds in 20.9 minutes is destroyed by the starters’ 27.5 minutes.

Going Forward

In the regular season, this shouldn’t be a huge issue for the Clippers. The Clippers’ starters have also performed much better recently with quality trade deadline additions like Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac who can help Danilo Gallinari hold down the court until the second unit comes on. Despite the amount of points that the Clippers’ starters give up, they play eight or nine guys a decent number of minutes each game. Their ability to rotate and play guys in short spurts should work to their advantage as fatigue begins to set in at this point in the season for teams with shorter benches.

In the playoffs however, rotations tend to tighten, so we’ll likely see a lot more minutes from the likes of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, which should compensate for the Clippers’ staggering differential between the starters and bench.

Lou Will and Trez

Speaking of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers are unique in that they bring two guys who are arguably their two best players off the bench. Both could likely start for any team, but the tandem has done considerable damage terrorizing second units.

Clippers-playoffs-montrezl harrell
Montrezl Harrell is criminally underrated, and the 25 year old’s play is crucial to the Clipper’s success. Photo courtesy of Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

In the 13 games since Tobias Harris was traded, Lou Williams has upped his scoring tremendously. He’s putting up 23.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest, and he’s been instrumental in their last two games. Two nights ago, he dropped 34 on the Celtics en route to a 25-point victory, and on Friday he had 40 to carry L.A. to victory over the Thunder.

On the year, Lou Will is averaging 20.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game on a TS% of 56.0 (league average is 55.9%). While his shooting splits aren’t particularly impressive, his counting stats are, and his ability to lead the best second unit in the league is invaluable.

While Williams is the current front-runner for the Sixth Man of The Year Award, his teammate, Montrezl Harrell has a case in his own right. Despite standing at just six foot eight, the Clippers back up center is averaging 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists on a TS% of 63.6. Although he’s the best center on the roster, the Clippers have used him as a spark-plug off the bench, and to great success.

The Verdict

The Clippers are more than legit, and they’re a near lock for the playoffs. Depending on how they close out the season, they could finish anywhere from the fourth seed to the eighth seed. Despite their weak starting lineup, their elite second unit makes them a tough match-up for nearly every team. Furthermore, save for Danilo Gallinari (30.4 MPG), no Clipper averages over 30 minutes per game. With the team’s depth and lack of big minutes placed on any one player, the Clippers should have comparatively fresh legs to close out the season. With a veteran coach like Doc Rivers at the helm, expect the Clippers to make a splash in the playoffs and surprise some teams.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Basketball Reference

Featured image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

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