The Clippers will return to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2017. This year marks the Clipper’s fifth playoff appearance since Doc Rivers took the helm. As of Tuesday, the Clippers hold the number six spot in the Western Conference with the possibility of playing the Portland Trailblazers in the first round.
“We’re playing at a really high level right now,” said Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. “We’re moving the ball and it’s fun. We’re defending, so we really don’t care who we play.”
Along with the Utah Jazz, the Clippers have no All-Star players, yet some Clippers rank high in different stat categories. Center Montrezl Harrell is fifth in the league in field goal percentage with 61.7 percent. Forward Danilo Gallinari is sixth in the NBA in three-pointer percentage with 43.3 percent.
The team also has depth, they carried on without Gallinari on their Saturday game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to win 132-108. Gallinari missed the match up due to ankle soreness, the team compensated for the loss of his 19 points per game with forward JaMychal Green and guard Landry Shamet scoring above their averages.
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams remains a constant force off the bench, leading the Clippers with 20 points and five assists per game. Harrell is a physical frontcourt presence and Beverley prioritizes defense.
“[Beverley] a really good defender,” said guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, “When you’re in the mix with him, you see it everyday at practice and what he does to opposing teams and his defense against All-Stars.”
Having Rivers as head coach brings the players a high level of postseason experience. In his 20 years as a head coach, he has missed the playoffs only five times. With the Boston Celtics, he won an NBA championship in 2008 and were the Eastern Conference Champions in 2010.
“it’s great to have a coach that knows what it takes to get to that championship level and also win it,” Harrell said. “Definitely been around this game for a long time, he’s a great teacher with the team.”
Another key factor of the Clippers is their youth. Gilgeous-Alexander has been a starting point guard for most of the season. He averaged 14 points per game in March and registered his first double-double against the Brooklyn Nets on March 17. His teammates noted how Gilgeous-Alexander has been playing with confidence.
“Lately he’s been playing really good, he’s scoring at will.” said center Ivica Zubac. “Guys are going under him on the screens to he’s gonna have an open shot every time.”
Shamet broke the Clippers rookie record for the most three-pointers made in a quarter and in a half in March. Zubac has been improving his rebound average throughout the season.
But how will they stack up against a tough Western Conference? Half of the western teams in the playoffs this year has not missed the postseason for the last four years at least. The Trailblazers lead the league field gold percentage (54.9) and three-pointer percentage (51.4).
With 36.4 points per game, Houston Rockets star James Harden leads the NBA in scoring. Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George paces the league with 2.1 steals per game. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is fourth in rebounds (12.9) and blocks (2.3) per game.
The Clippers games against the Rockets on April 3, the Golden State Warriors on April 5 and the Jazz on April 10 could be possible indicators of how long they will last in the playoffs.