Here at Blue Man Hoop, we’re gearing up for the 2012-13 season by looking around the NBA to see how each team matches up with the Golden State Warriors. We’ll give you an overview of each opponent, a matchup or stat to watch and a measure of just how big a threat each opposing squad represents for the Dubs. Be sure to check out the other previews we’ve done so far on Blue Man Hoop: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers.
L.A. Clippers Overview
The Clippers are right there—knocking at the door of the NBA’s elite. They’ve got a legitimate superstar in Chris Paul, who’s playing the point guard position better than anyone’s ever done it (statistical fact, not my opinion). ESPN‘s D.J. Foster had this to say about Paul before his spectacular 2011-12 season:
If you put nostalgia aside and just looked at their stats, you could easily make the argument for Paul as the best of the bunch. He’s a superior long-range shooter and takes care of the ball better than Magic did, he’s a better rebounder and scorer than Stockton, and he’s a better distributor than Isiah. Chris Paul, to this point in his career, has been better than three of the best point guards to ever play.
Lebron James needed one of the greatest seasons in NBA history to top Paul’s 27.09 PER last year.
And then there’s Blake Griffin L.A.’s deeply flawed, but still extremely effective star at the 4. If he’s your second best player, you’re in great shape.
Surrounding the Clippers’ “Big Two” is a cast of able role players. DeAndre Jordan does nothing but dunk, but with Chris Paul around, that can work. L.A. has hauled in a trio of forwards who should all help the team manage the decline of Caron Butler and its poor perimeter defense—Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes. Jamal Crawford is a terrible signing, but the Clips get a pass there.
Overall, the Clippers have improved a roster that made it to the second round last year, despite injury troubles that either knocked out (Chauncey Billups) or slowed down (Chris Paul) some key players. And keep in mind, during the regular season, there’s a pretty good argument that the Clips were better than their L.A. co-tenants last year. Their point differential was better and they had a higher offensive efficiency rating than the Lakers at No. 4 overall.
If Paul’s not bothered by the broken hand he suffered over the summer, the Clips are a 50-win team this year, at worst. At best, they could challenge the West’s elite.
Last year, the Warriors and Clippers split a four game series. Obviously, any matchup analysis begins and ends with CP3 and the nightmare he poses Warrior guards, who have simply never been able to keep him from getting to whatever spot on the floor he wants. There is no good way to defend Paul—you just have to hope his shot’s off when you force him to be a scorer. But that doesn’t usually work out. Nobody can stop Paul, so we’ll leave that matchup alone.
One interesting matchup to watch will be between DeAndre Jordan and the foul line. Last year, Golden State employed the “Hack-A-DeAndre” defense to pretty good effect. Jordan averaged 5.8 free-throw attempts per game against the Warriors, nearly triple his season average. He made just 39 percent of them against the Dubs. Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but the math makes it a very effective strategy. Plus, it forces the Clippers to take Jordan out of games late.
The most interesting aspect of said strategy is its possible application to one Blake Griffin. Griffin’s free-throw woes went from mildly concerning to downright scary last year; after shooting 64 percent from the stripe as a rookie, Griffin made just 52 percent last year. The Warriors might consider putting him on the line deliberately, like they did with Jordan last year. It might frustrate him and take him out of his game, not to mention it would remove Paul from the offensive equation, to some degree. Of course, it might also piss him off and result in him going all “Hulk Smash!” on everyone. Dangerous, but worth a shot.
Threat Level: 9/10
The Clips are very good, and possibly even great. They’re also in the Warriors’ division, making them as regular a sight on the schedule as any team in the league. If Golden State finishes ahead of L.A., it’ll either mean something went horribly wrong for the Clips or something went fantastically right for the Dubs. In any case, another series split with the Clippers would be an excellent result for the Warriors in 2012-13.