Over the next month, we’ll be talking with a variety of people who cover each NBA team to talk a little bit about their team, and how they expect the season to go. We’ll also find out what they believe will be the most intriguing matchup when the two team’s meet during the regular season. We’ll begin with the Pacific Division and the Los Angeles Clippers. We’re joined by Trisity Miller of FanSided’s FullyClips. You can follow Trisity on twitter @Trisity_ and FullyClips on twitter @FullyClipsFS.
Wednesday, November 19th @Orlando
Wednesday, December 3rd, @ Los Angeles
Last Season: 57-25, Third Seed In Western Conference; Lost In Second Round To Oklahoma City In Six
November 6th: Los Angeles 90 Orlando 98
January 6th: Orlando 81 Los Angeles 101
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
Small Forward: Matt Barnes
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Center: DeAndre Jordan
Below Trisity answered some questions for us.
Q: What kind of impact, if any, do you see the sale of the team from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer having?
A: Team morale.
Throughout the postseason and summer, Donald Sterling’s presence hung over anything and everything involving the franchise. At one point, I felt drained, so I can’t imagine how the front office, sponsors, players, etc. felt.
Now that presence is gone and the team can breathe easy–fans too. Ballmer seems like a Mark Cuban-esque owner–he’s going to be visible, seems willing enough to spend to improve the team and, most importantly, he seems like an all-around good guy, three things opposite of Sterling. I’m not sure this franchise, considering all of the owner-related problem they’ve been forced through for 30-plus years could’ve stumbled upon a better candidate.
Q: Last season we saw Blake Griffin really take that next step on both ends of the floor. What’s the biggest thing that you want to see improvement in from him this season?
A: I’ve asked myself this same question and the answer lies either with defense, becoming the secondary rim protector alongside DeAndre Jordan, or shooting, three-point shooting specifically.
Shooting seems to be the better option — Griffin may lack the tools to become an elite defender. Non-shooting bigs have added the shot to their arsenal over the last few seasons as floor-spacing bigs have increased in importance due to defenses taking advantage of opponents space–or lack of.
By improving his three-ball, Griffin opens up the offense for Chris Paul to operate, for DeAndre Jordan to roll to the basket in pick-and-roll’s and for J.J. Redick to work in space. I’m not sure if Griffin would ever become a good enough shooter where Rivers would run designated sets to get him shots, but if he can reach Chris Bosh levels of 3P% — Bosh shot 33% last season — Griffin can continue his upward trend in regards to player development.
Q: When the Magic and Clippers get together, which matchup will have your attention the most?
A: Player for player, nothing exactly draws my eye, but the Clippers backcourt (CP3 & Redick) vs. the Magic’s backcourt (Payton & Oladipo) is intriguing. On one side you’ve got, arguably, the best offensive guard duo in the league vs. a duo that could likely become the league’s best defensive guard duo in three or four years.
Payton will have to deal with the many intricacies of Chris Paul’s offense while Oladipo will be tasked with chasing Redick around numerous screens. Or to better slow down the Clippers, the Magic’ll stick Oladipo on Chris Paul leaving Payton to chase Redick for 20-30 minutes a game. Obviously the Clippers have the advantage, but what I’m looking for here is what Payton and ‘Dipo can do to slow the other two down. This is probably boring stuff to the casual fan, but if they’re going to be a great defensive tandem, I want to see signs of it now rather than later.
Q: Where do you see the Clippers finishing in the Western Conference this season? How deep of a playoff run can they make?
A: The optimist in me says second in the West and a NBA Finals birth. The pessimist says third in the West and a conference finals exit. The Clippers won 57 games in a season where Chris Paul and J.J. Redick missed 50 combined games. If those two can avoid the injury bug, the 60-game mark will be easy to reach. The obstacles for finishing higher in the conference are San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Like LA, these teams are probably locks to finish with 60-plus wins. Odds are it’ll come down to whoever has the best injury luck and the best head to head record.
In regards to the playoffs, La is one year away from it being officially championship or bust. But it is WCF or bust. I personally believe they’re the 2nd best team in the West behind San Antonio. The gap between them and OKC isn’t large, but with the OKC improving their ’13 club little, I give the Clippers the nod. This means they should be facing one of the aforementioned opponents to decide a NBA Finals bid and I like Los Angeles’ odds against both teams–if healthy. So I guess I’m picking an NBA Finals appearance, haha.