You’ve had a week to sit and think about where the Warriors are, so I want to instead focus on their opponent. And who better to do that than my colleague Sabreena Merchant, who covers L.A. for our sister site, Clips Nation.
I asked Sabreena five questions — plus a bonus question — about the Clippers. Know your enemy and all. I also answered some questions about the Warriors, so you can head over to Clips Nation to see what I had to say about your beloved Dubs.
Q. The Clippers have a strong record but are fourth in the conference. Does the first half feel successful or disappointing?
Sabreena: Two weeks ago, I would say the first half of the season was a success, but the limp into the All-Star Break (the Clippers have lost six of their last nine games and three in a row) leaves a bitter taste. The Clippers have done a lot of things well, mostly on the offensive end. The problem is that they don’t really have signature wins. After beating the Lakers on opening night, this team only has one great win, which came at home against Utah. Taking care of business against lesser teams is good, but I’m sure the Clippers are rueing their missed opportunities against Brooklyn, Milwaukee, etc.
Q. Last season had a disappointing ending. What do the Clippers need to address in the second half of the season to avoid a repeat?
Sabreena: At the moment, the key problem for the Clippers is their crunch-time performance, which was something of an issue during the postseason as they repeatedly blew big leads, not just to Denver but Dallas as well. Ty Lue has said that the Clippers have only installed about 25 to 30 percent of their playbook so far, so in some respects, it’s not unreasonable that the team gets stagnant at the end of games. However, given this team’s history in the postseason, you don’t want to go into the playoffs with that reputation. It would really help to win a couple high-profile games before that point.
The Clippers have been using their small lineup more frequently with Marcus Morris Sr. at the 5, and those groups have been flat awful defensively. Those are definitely units Lue is going to want to run with during the playoffs because of their offensive potential, but they have to clean things up on the other end.
Q. Should Kawhi Leonard be getting more attention in the MVP discussion?
Sabreena: I don’t think so. I think Leonard is firmly in the first/second-team all-NBA discussion, and his offensive output has been tremendous. His usage combined with his efficiency is really impressive, and the continued growth in his playmaking is big for what the Clippers are trying to do. However, Leonard has been bad late in games — part of the larger problem for the Clippers — and I’m not even sure how much more valuable he’s been than Paul George. He should be in the top 5-7 consideration, which is where he is.
Q. How would you rate the Paul George/Kawhi Leonard pairing after 1.5 seasons? What has worked, and what needs to improve? Are they a good enough duo to win a title without a third star?
Sabreena: The pairing has been awesome. They absolutely blitz teams when they’re on the court together, because hardly any opponent in the league has two wing defenders good enough to make their lives difficult. Between Kawhi’s midrange game and PG’s volume shooting off the dribble, they beat the defense in so many different ways. I think the problem with the Clippers has been the lack of consistency from the other guys, whether that’s Patrick Beverley’s availability, or hot and cold shooting from the role players.
The Clippers are constructed well enough to win a title without a third star, because I don’t think there are any superteams (I have my doubts about Brooklyn), but like most of the other contenders, it’ll depend on the draw. They match up well against Utah and the Lakers, but teams like Denver or Phoenix could give them more trouble.
Q. Rank the four best players in this game.
Sabreena: I hate that I gave you this question now. Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kelly Oubre Jr. (just kidding, no. 4 is obviously Draymond)
BONUS: Will the Clippers ever win a title, and if they do, will it ruin their hipster brand?
Sabreena: I think winning the title would give the Clippers some of that Raptors swag, which is funny considering they have Kawhi and Serge Ibaka. There’s still the shadow of the Lakers in L.A., so I think the Clippers could still own the hipster following because fo that. It would be interesting if the Clippers made the Western Conference Finals, thus ending that streak, but still coming up short of the ultimate goal. I think that would just bring more pain.
Big thanks to Sabreena for keeping us informed about the Clippers. And enjoy the game tonight, which is at 7:00 p.m. PT, and can be found on TNT.