There are paper champions every season, the team that appears to tower over others with its talent, but never fully materializes on the floor.
That, to some extent, has been the story of the 2019-20 Los Angeles Clippers, who have teased enough to still be taken seriously, but also seem to have something missing.
Now they face a weary but tested opponent in the Denver Nuggets, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Utah Jazz behind the steadiness of center Nikola Jokic and the breakout of young guard Jamal Murray. This is a significantly different matchup than the first round, which was challenging against the Dallas Mavericks until Kristaps Porzingis’ knee injury.
But this is also the time for the Clippers to cement themselves as true contenders.
What do the LA Clippers need to do to win?
1. Find Playoff P: When you give yourself a nickname, you better live up to it. Otherwise, others give you another. So Paul George has been labeled “Pandemic P” by his detractors, who were mobilized further by his challenge of Blazers star Dame Lillard that led to Lillard lighting the bubble on fire. Kawhi Leonard left a champion to play with George in Los Angeles, and the Clippers’ astute management gave up everything but their first borns to get George out of Oklahoma City. So the 18.5 points per game, on 37.5 percent shooting – which is what George produced against Dallas – won’t cut it. George needs to limit Murray while proving himself to be a reliable second option…. when it matters. Anything else would be, well, Pathetic.
2. Neutralize Jokic: Skinny Joker was dynamic, in his own glacial way, in Game 7 against the Jazz. He is the fulcrum of all the Nuggets do offensively, even in light of Murray’s ascent, and the Clippers’ centers aren’t known for their defensive stinginess. It may come down to sending smart doubles, with Leonard or George, but the Clippers can’t let him operate with impunity. Or just letting Marcus Morris take out his knees.
3. Find a Lou-Will to win: Back in the Bubble after his Atlanta excursion, the Clippers’ wing king averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting off the bench in the first round. But Gary Harris, back after six months for Denver, will offer more resistance than the Mavericks’ defense-averse guards. Williams makes the second unit go; he must find ways to remain effective.
Better Bet: Clippers in 5. It’s Kawhi time. He’ll carry George if he must. But this matchup, with the Nuggets’ dearth of wing size, should get George going too.
-- written by Juicy J