With LeBron James sitting out the playoffs for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, the NBA has a problem on its hands: Which team are they going to showcase to a national audience to prevent folks from spending their weekends watching The Masters?
That series turns out to be the Los Angeles Clippers against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, with ABC showcasing that series with a Saturday night telecast of Game 1 and a Sunday afternoon (April 21) showcase of Game 4.
And the Clippers have no chance, correct?
That is what the sportsbooks are predicting, with the Clippers listed as 55/1 underdogs to win the best-of-seven series at DraftKings Sportsbook … or to put it another way, the Warriors being listed as -20000 (200/1) to advance to the second round.
Well, please pardon the oppositional nature of this column … because there is a school of thought that the Warriors are vulnerable for a number of reasons:
- Coach Steve Kerr and Draymond Green have endured a great deal of friction this season.
- Kevin Durant’s impending free agency has been a dark cloud hanging over the team the entire season.
- Steph Curry has a foot injury that is being described as “minor” … but no injury below either of Curry’s knees is ever really “minor.”
Yes, the Warriors won the season series 3-1, including a 27-point beatdown four days ago in which Golden State clinched the No. 1 seed in the West and outscored the Clippers 42-18 in the third quarter to turn the game into a runaway.
And that is bound to happen again in Games 1, 2, 3 and 4, correct?
Well … let’s take a closer look at the Clippers.
Don’t dismiss them
First and foremost, the Clippers turned over their roster at the trade deadline when they dealt Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers and brought in rookie Landry Shamet, along with another trade in which they acquired center Ivica Zubac from the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The chemistry was instant,” said Danilo Gallinari … a comment that was echoed by Doc Rivers in a late-season visit to Madison Square Garden at which he marveled at the way his youth-laden roster had become a solid defensive team with a bunch of players in their early 20s who were great listeners when it came to receiving tutelage from the coaching staff and Sixth Man of the Year shoo-in Lou Williams.
A top-five finish in Sixth Man of the Year voting is expected for Montrezl Harrell, who will tag team with Zubac to defend DeMarcus Cousins as Boogie he plays playoff basketball with the Warriors for the first time.
“It’s a whole new season,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s time to get going.”
Something else to keep in mind: When Game 1 of the NBA Finals was played last season, the Warriors were prohibitive favorites in Game 1 but might have lost if J.R. Smith had not had his moment of cranial flatulence, leading to an excruciating loss that prompted LeBron James to take out his anger on an Oracle Center blackboard.
You never know what to expect in a Game 1, so keep that in mind when considering the relative merits of the Clippers being listed as a 13-point underdog for Saturday opener.
Shooting star needs to shine
The key player in the series for Los Angeles will be Williams, who has not had a single-digit scoring game since Dec. 6 — a run of 47 consecutive games in double figures.
The 15-year veteran will be appearing in the playoffs for the eighth time (with no starts), and for the Clippers to have any chance of pulling off the unimaginable Williams will have to improve on his career postseason shooting percentages of 40.5 overall and 32 percent from 3-point range.
Also, the Clippers are a very young team — usually a sign of a team that needs to learn how to absorb losses rather than figuring out ways to produce victories. The task of focusing on one game at a time will fall upon coach Doc Rivers, who has coached 161 postseason games during his 20 seasons holding a clipboard.
But Rivers does have one of the best defensive guards in the NBA at his disposal in Patrick Beverley, who will likely draw the defensive assignment on Curry.
“Should we take that personal that the Warriors are the favorite?” Rivers said. “The [Clippers] have a chip anyway. … My guess is in the next 48 hours someone’s going to write something or say something that will piss Pat off, and he’ll tell everybody and it will work out for us.”
Rivers played his regular group in the season finale against Utah and watched as they picked up right where they left off in March, when the Clippers (48-34) went an NBA-best 13-2.
Win or lose, the Clips are value
Of course, March is in everyone’s rearview mirror. And because memories are short, everyone is sort of concentrating on how Houston may be the team to beat in the West because of the way they finished the regular season.
But remember, wagering opportunities that make sense — especially in terms of long odds — are few and far between. The Clippers may or may not be one of them …. that is for the reader to decide.
But discount them at your own peril. They are one of the stronger No. 8 seed to come along in quite some time.