With the much-talked-about acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George over the offseason, the LA Clippers have become one of the most recognized teams in the league, and have the potential to finally grasp the long-awaited chip that has escaped them since their days in Buffalo.
The only problem with that idea, however, is that the Pacific Division and the Western Conference, in general, have gotten much more competitive. The Golden State Warriors have made their dynasty clear, but they’ll have to face the same tough competition that the Clippers do. Let’s look at the top rivals of the Clippers in the West, as well as their probability of success against those teams.
Rebirth of the Lake Show
The team that has surpassed the Clippers in media attention this offseason, as well as most others, are their Los Angeles rivals in the Lakers. The Lakers, who acquired one of the NBA greats in Lebron James in July of 2018, added on this year by snatching up a perennial MVP candidate, Anthony Davis. The Lakers as an organization have suffered over the past few years due to either unlucky circumstances or lack-luster decisions from management, but that seems mostly behind them now, as they have the best odds in the NBA to hoist the Larry O’Brien in 2020.
As stated before though, not all of the bad luck has completely left them yet, as the final piece of the puzzle in DeMarcus Cousins not only tore his ACL and was to be out for the season, but additional pain was created when a warrant for his arrest was put out. To fill the hole that he left, the Lakers picked up one of their former players in Dwight Howard. Still, the Lakers also got talents like Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and Quinn Cook. Their bench as a whole looks more complete than it has in quite a few seasons, and they’re ready to put the “show” back in their name.
The Clippers played the Lakers very well over the last six years, as they’ve won six season series straight. Still, the Lakers split the series last year and looked much better than they did during other Clips-Lakers games. Overall, Lebron will always have the ability to shift the tide of a game, and with his new supporting cast, he has a decent team to go forward with. The Lakers might have the better star-power, but the Clippers still have their solid bench from last year, so it’ll be an interesting series. The Clippers have about a fifty-percent shot of winning the season series now that the Lakers look formidable.
Houston Has No Problems
In most years, the Houston Rockets are absolutely beast-like with the incredible game they play on the court, but this year might be a little different. After a debacle between former Clipper Chris Paul and his teammate James Harden, Paul is gone and has been replaced by a younger powerhouse named Russell Westbrook. Without Westbrook, the Rockets still came in fourth in the Western Conference, so it’s hard to imagine how they’ll play with mostly the same supporting cast letting Harden and Westbrook shine.
Without the locker room clashes, the Rockets will be a more solid team on the court, playing without a bog down due to toxicity. Houston can also bring the domination yet again against the Pacific like last season, taking thirty-two of twenty matchups with divisional rivals. As mentioned before, it’s still mostly the same team, so all that needs to be done is to fill Westbrook in on the roster. The Clippers have had a really tough time figuring out Houston before, only managing to win one season series against them since 2014-2015 (the rest were splits with the exception of 2016-2017). Their odds to repeat this year are still relatively low. They’ll have to really shine to overcome the Rockets. Houston has their fair share of weaknesses though, especially in the next big rivalry the Clippers have to get through.
Golden State Going For Gold Yet Again
For anyone watching the NBA closely or with one eye open, it’s been pretty clear cut that the Golden State Warriors have been the most dominant force in the Western Conference, as well as the NBA. Most thought that the Warriors were finished after their Finals loss against the Toronto Raptors last season due to the impending loss of Kevin Durant, but as the Warriors always do, they flipped the situation right around by signing D’Angelo Russell and keeping Klay Thompson.
Since then, the Warriors have stayed within contention as the team with the fourth-best odds or so to make it back in the Finals. It’s a younger, faster team that added back the ability to drop massive amounts of points quick to take those games where they don’t play their best. The scariest teams are the ones that win games that were bad by their standards, and Golden State has that potential on lock. The Clippers have to tread carefully against Golden State, as they’ve shown what they can do to LA. The Warriors have taken every season series since 2006-2007, and have never looked back. Most years, the Clippers got lucky to even tie them, and the only real-time they overcame that hump was in the first round of the 2014 playoffs with a seven-game series victory.
Even with the Clippers’ main weakness in Durant leaving for Brooklyn, the combination of Steph Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Klay Thompson alone still has the ability to win the Pacific and the West once again. LA will have to hope for the best this season, mostly hoping to avoid Golden State entirely in the playoffs if they were to qualify.
Dallas and Denver Both Seeking Chips
Last season, the Nuggets proved their merits by almost dethroning Golden State at the top of the Pacific, and they’ve not a single reason to not do the same this season. Nikola Jokic is returning for another MVP candidate bid, and the rest of the team is still intact, putting them back in the race for the top this year.
Dallas hasn’t seen a season series win against the Clippers since 2010-2011, but they’re finally looking to change that this year. With the youth that they’ll be seeing this year and a pretty healthy team back on the court, things might get ugly.
Overall, the Clippers could easily win or lose one or both of these series, it depends on how the team on the court is looking by that point. Any significant injury might cause at least one or two losses to these teams, as they’ll look to pounce on any opportunity to take away chances from the Clips.
Singing the Blues For the Jazz
The last team that could really make the season tough for LA is Utah. They came in fifth place last season and had the Clippers beat for five straight games until they finally won their last matchup of the 2018-2019 season. They have had and could possibly still have the Clippers’ number, making them just as formidable as the Lakers or the Warriors. The one true weakness of Utah is still the mistakes that come of playing some inexperienced players. Still, it doesn’t make too much of a difference, as the Jazz are almost locked in for another playoff berth. The Clippers might not be too worried about Utah now, but it could come down to some crucial late games between these two to decide the final standings in the West.
The LA Clippers will face a grueling task ahead of them this season as the Western Conference has become stacked from head to toe. With the Lakers making a comeback, on top of Golden State and Houston maintaining their powerhouse teams, Kawhi and Paul will have to work well with the team to produce just enough points to win the close matchups that come between all of these teams.
Even some of the fallers like Portland and San Antonio have their chances to be right back up there in contention, it’s not a clearcut field yet. Talent, brains, and true guts will have to carry the Clippers to that ever-elusive chip if they want to get past the best of the West.
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