In this week’s issue of Three-Point Thursdays, our panel of NBA writers sit down to discuss the state of three Western Conference teams.
Before suffering some setbacks, the Clippers went on a 17-game winning streak and were at the top of the Western Conference. How far can this team go?
Raj Prashad: This team can conceivably go all the way to the Finals. They are the deepest team in the league and have the supreme combination of stout defense and unique athleticism. With Chris Paul leading the way, the Clippers have a dynamic duo of bigs in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, as well as Jamal Crawford, who should run away with the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Jack Maloney: As they showed during their 17-game win streak, the Los Angeles Clippers are a team to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. Their 9.3 point differential, best in the league, shows just how dominant the team has been on their way to a 25-7 record. Chris Paul has been as good as always, averaging 16 points and 9 assists per game. Blake Griffin, who is always ready to throw down a spectacular dunk, has made a big improvement to his jump shot, making him much tougher to guard. The deep bench has also been very impressive, and their second unit of Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Lamar Odom has held opponents to a very impressive 87.6 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com. Although the West is very tough, the Clippers will be a contender for the conference crown.
Adam Lowenstein: The Los Angeles Clippers lack an interior presence for rebounding and rely heavily on fastbreak points. However, the Clippers impressed with their gargantuan 17-game winning streak. They became just the 17th team in NBA history to win 17 consecutive games. Of those 16 streaks previous streaks, 13 were single-season ones. Of the 13 teams to win 17 straight games in one season before 2012-13, six won the championship later that season. With just under half of the previous teams to accomplish the Clippers’ feat raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Clippers should be able to make it to the Western Conference Semifinals. However, the Clippers’ reliance on outside shooting does not bode well against the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
Robert Krivitsky: The Clippers are the deepest team in the league and it is conceivable that they are this year’s NBA champions. However, this is a team that faces big time questions. For starters, LA is loaded with streaky shooters, who could find themselves go cold come playoff time. Furthermore, despite having Chris Paul, the Clippers struggle in the half court game, in large part because of lacking a low a post threat, even with Blake Griffin’s improvements. During the 17-game winning streak, lob city played well defensively. However, outside of the small forward position, the team features inconsistent players; many of whom have bad nights at that end of the floor, more often than good ones. They will continue developing, and could stay hot throughout the playoffs, but it is much more realistic to see this team once again eliminated in the Conference Semifinals.
The Lakers have looked better since the return of Nash and Gasol. Can they figure it out come playoff time?
RP: I don’t know what “figuring it out” has to do with this team. Sure, they’re not executing, but being old isn’t something that’s fixable. Dwight Howard is visibly injured and simply trying to outscore opponents without playing defense won’t work for this team. They could waltz into the Western Conference Finals behind Kobe Bryant and the veteran group of stars, but anything less than a championship should be considered a failure considering how this team was constructed.
JM: Since Steve Nash’s return on December 22 against Golden State, the Lakers have posted a 3-2 record, and are still under .500, with a 15-16 record. One of the big struggles for the Lakers this year has been their defense. They are giving up 100.3 points per game, the 11th best mark in the Western Conference. Another issue for the Lakers is their age, which Kobe Bryant made note of on Wednesday morning, saying, “We’re old as [expletive].” Despite these issues, the Lakers should be able to make a playoff push. With Nash back to run the show, Bryant leading the league in scoring, and Dwight Howard down low, the Lakers are too talented to miss out on the playoffs.
AL: With some recent struggles by the Lakers since their season-high five-game winning streak, they have shown their depth issues once again. Most people could call them a four-player team because of Metta World Peace’s wild inconsistencies and Antawn Jamison’s lack of much lateral movement. While they have Jordan Hill who owns Hollinger’s best offensive rebound rate in the league this season, it is in limited minutes. In addition, the Lakers’ 6-13 record in 2012-13 when Kobe Bryant has scored at least 30 points is disconcerting, but the team had been 53-23 in the previous three regular seasons when he had done so. Let’s also remember how the Miami Heat struggled at the beginning of the 2010-11 season in their first year of their ‘big three’ experiment. Therefore, with the amount of talent that the Lakers have in their starting lineup, I am sure that they will have themselves figured out and ready for a run for the title, barring injuries.
RK: Health is the biggest factor for the Lakers. Dwight Howard is nowhere near one hundred percent and it is most evident at the defensive end. Despite having two seven-footers, teams have found success attacking the middle of LA’s defense. Since returning, Steve Nash has already made a large impact on the team’s offense. If Los Angeles stays healthy throughout the playoffs, I expect to see them in the Western Conference Finals.
Golden State Warriors are on a roll, despite missing Andrew Bogut. Are they a threat in the playoffs?
RP: Sure, they’re a threat. The Warriors, more or less, run behind Stephen Curry. As long as Curry is running the show, Golden State will be fine. If Bogut can play significant minutes come playoff time, though, the Warriors could be in business to make a serious run.
JM: At 21-10, the Warriors have been one of the most surprising teams in the league this season. Both Steph Curry and David Lee have been impressive this season, each averaging 20 points a game. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe detailed, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jarrett Jack has been a big help off the bench. With the Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Heat and Spurs among their next six games, these next two weeks will be a tough test for the young Warriors. In an incredibly tough Western Conference, I don’t think the Warriors are quite ready to be serious threat. They are certainly a fun team to watch though, and will be a tough out for whomever they face in the playoffs.
AL: I have been thoroughly impressed by the Golden State Warriors’ amazing start to 2012-13. For most of the season, they have ranked in the top ten in offensive and defensive efficiency. However, what has flown under the radar is that they have dominated the Eastern Conference while being average against their own conference. Concerning Andrew Bogut, no one can be sure that he will be healthy at all during his career, especially for the 2013 playoffs. When asking about the Warriors being a threat in the postseason, I have to disagree because they will not be facing any of those cupcake Eastern Conference teams. These young Warriors are still also in the early stages of development under second-year head coach Mark Jackson. Older teams typically win championships, and Jackson’s bunch is just not ready yet.
RK: Mark Jackson has Golden State playing defense and following a tremendous offseason, this team has the make up to pull off an upset. We will know more about this team when Bogut returns but in the meantime, Festus Ezeli has done an excellent job filling in. If they make the playoffs, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are hitting, the Warriors will make life very difficult on whoever their opponent is.
If you have any questions, drop them in the comment box below or tweet us, and we might feature them in our next week’s issue of Three-Point Thursdays.
(Disclaimer: All of the stats are only accurate as of yesterday, before last night’s games)