With the playoffs right around the corner it is time to get some local knowledge of the LA Clippers. We couldn’t think of anyone with more knowledge of the Clippers than our friend at the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate ClipperBlog and their excellent writer D. J. Foster.
Founded by Kevin Arnovitz and Mike Fiske back in 2006, ClipperBlog has dutifully kept Clipper fans abreast of the team’s news despite laboring under the shadow of the cross-town rival LA Lakers. This season their quality work has become much more recognized with the rise of the Clippers into the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
3SOB: The Clippers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and have only advanced out of the first round once since moving to LA in 1984. How prepared is the team in general for the playoff atmosphere?
DJF: The Clippers’ early season inability to defend or get offensive production from their second unit put them in a ton of unnecessarily tight games. The upside in that is that the Clippers got a lot of reps together playing in tight ballgames where every possession was played at full tilt, which is really the biggest shift the playoffs present. The Clippers have their late-game strategy down pat — give the ball to Chris Paul, and get the heck out-of-the-way.
I’m not too concerned with the increased physicality of the postseason bothering experienced guys like Kenyon Martin or Caron Butler, but it will be interesting to see how Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan react to it in their first playoff appearances. I don’t expect anyone to get shook by a noisy crowd or anything like that though — the Clippers have total faith in Paul to rescue them in even the most dire situations.
3SOB: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are known commodities but who do the casual Memphis fans not know that is going to make an impact in the series?
DJF: I think Kenyon Martin will be a huge factor in this series covering Marc Gasol, but I don’t think Kenyon has done anything under the radar maybe ever. How about Eric Bledsoe? He’s the Grizzliest of all the Clippers (if that makes any sense) in that he plays an insanely aggressive brand of perimeter defense by hounding ballhandlers all the way up the court. I’m not saying he’s on his level — because he’s not — but Bledsoe is the Clippers’ Tony Allen. He’s hands down the best defender outside of Paul, and although he stands about 6-foot-2, he is incredibly strong and has the athletic ability to block shots and play much bigger than he is.
Bledsoe doesn’t play a ton of minutes, but he may need to in this series. If O.J. Mayo or Mike Conley catch fire, don’t be surprised to see the Clippers trot out Bledsoe as the extinguisher.
3SOB: The logic around the league is that players not coaches make the team. You have Vinny Del Negro. Does it help the Clippers, hurt the Clippers or does it not really matter?
DJF: Anyone that thinks coaches don’t matter is, well, wrong. It’s not about “playcalling” so much as it is incorporating a defensive system, making adjustments, and playing the right combinations. Del Negro hurts the Clippers in that he could do more. His philosophy is to roll the ball out there and let Chris Paul run the show, which on its own isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just that Del Negro doesn’t “help” an awful lot in maximizing the abilities of talents.
I’ll say this though — Del Negro’s teams always play hard. He’s a great motivator. I’m not sure how much that helps in the playoffs or against Lionel Hollins, who got his team to buy into his defensive system as well as anyone not named Thibodeau.The advantage here definitely belongs to Memphis over a 7-game series. Del Negro has made strides this year, but he’s not on the level of Hollins, who in my mind is one of the more underrated coaches in the league.
3SOB: Who do you thank more for the Clippers season: David Stern, GM Neil Olshey or Donald Sterling?
DJF: Thanking Donald Sterling for not being incompetent is funny, but at least he had the sense not to open his mouth and screw things up. David Stern did what was right from an owner’s perspective for New Orleans — you can’t run an NBA team with a “win at all costs” mindset. It just doesn’t work that way. All that said, the real thanks goes to Neil Olshey, who remained patient and hoarded assets until the perfect time. There were plenty of “singles” Olshey could have hit along the way, but he waited for his pitch and hit one out of the park with the acquisition of Paul.
3SOB: Who’s going to win the series and why?
DJF: Clippers in 7. The Clippers playoff expectations consist of a really low floor, but also a very high ceiling. I think this series is going to be ridiculously, coin-flip type close. The Grizzlies have advantages all over the court with Gasol in the high post and Rudy Gay’s ability to shoot over opponents, but I’m not sold on Zach Randolph playing at anywhere near the level he was in last year’s playoffs. Tony Allen is a hell of a stopper, and Memphis is certainly the better defensive team, but…Chris Paul. It’s simple for me — Paul has put up numbers in the playoffs that rank him among the greatest to ever play. He has another gear reserved for the postseason, and if it comes down to trading buckets at the end of tight games, I’ll pick Paul.
3 Shades of Blue wishes to thank DJ and the other fine writers at ClipperBlog for their assistance. With the series expected to be so close we hope they will be sharing their thoughts more on the games.