The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before Thursday’s season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Los Angeles Clippers?
Place: Second in the West
The Los Angeles Clippers were not quite the wrecking crew we imagined at season’s start, but they showed enough to make clear what a fearsome matchup they could be in the playoffs. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard played just 32 games together because of the former’s offseason shoulder surgeries and the latter’s load management. The Clips were exceptional with their two stars on the floor, outscoring opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions. This is the most talented and versatile team in the NBA.
In the last eight games before the break, the Clippers were destroying teams, save for a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers — the first outcome in three meetings between the two L.A. rivals that did not go the Clippers’ way. During that stretch, the Clips won every 100 possessions by an average of 14 points, twice the net rating as the next-best team in the lead-up to the hiatus. They can score in waves, including the league’s most dominant pick-and-roll combination off the bench (Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell), and they can smother you defensively with switchable personnel capable of protecting the perimeter and the rim.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Lou Williams (quarantine)
Williams, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year and potent scoring weapon, must complete a league-mandated 10-day quarantine after leaving the NBA bubble. He will miss the first two of their eight seeding games. Williams was excused from Orlando following his grandfather’s death. However, he was photographed at an Atlanta strip club, where he says he was picking up food, which would have been a heck of a way for a billion-dollar experiment to come crashing down had he spread the coronavirus. The Clippers expect to have their full contingent of players for the playoffs once Williams clears quarantine.
Over/under wins in the bubble: 5.5 (Over -145; under +120)
NBA Finals odds: +175
Championship odds: +325
The Clippers spent multiple first-round picks to acquire Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks at the trade deadline. Morris was enjoying a career statistical year for a terrible Knicks team, averaging 20 points per game and shooting 44 percent on six 3-point attempts a night. He was building on a two-year stint with the Boston Celtics counting him as a leader during a 2018 Eastern Conference finals run.
Theoretically, Morris gives the Clippers yet another scoring option and a third wing defender to throw at LeBron James, a role Morris reveled in Boston. He further unlocks lineups big and small, raising the potential for an already potent roster to extraordinary levels. His scoring efficiency dipped along with his role, but the Clips were a monster defensively with him on the floor. If he finds an offensive rhythm during a training camp with his new team, they might be even more of a wrecking crew than we ever imagined.
(All times Eastern)
July 30: Los Angeles Lakers, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 1: New Orleans Pelicans, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 4: Phoenix Suns, 4 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 6: Dallas Mavericks, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 8: Portland Trail Blazers, 1 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 9: Brooklyn Nets, 9 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 12: Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 14: Oklahoma City Thunder, TBD
There is every reason to believe Leonard can do with the Clippers what he did for the Toronto Raptors last season, leading a methodical march through the playoffs to the franchise’s first-ever championship. The question is whether George and company can be the supporting cast those Raptors were for Leonard on that run. Anything less than a title should be a disappointment, even if their season ends in a long series against the Lakers in a Western Conference finals matchup everyone deserves. The Clippers are deeper and more adaptable than any other team. Translating that into execution is the only obstacle.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Second in the West
Finish: NBA champions
More from our NBA restart series:
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