Normally, listing the bench as a key area of concern for the LA Clippers would be laughable. When you consider that the 2019-20 edition of the LAC bench has Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, but legitimate candidates for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year ward, you would be right to laugh. But, as the Clippers get ready to restart the NBA season against the Lakers they are without both of those players.
Losing Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell is like any other team losing two starters. When you consider the amount of minutes both those players play, 29.3 and 27.8 respectively, you can see the similarities. In addition to getting starter minutes, Williams and Harrell are regularly on the court to close out games for Doc Rivers.
In short, these two are very important to the Clippers long-term success.
Both players will miss tonight’s game due to quarantine after leaving the bubble. Williams, now famously, for a strip bar stop to pick up wings and Harrell due to a family emergency. The Clippers have built an impressive squad behind their stars and now we get to see how well that paid off. Reggie Jackson will likely get the minutes Lou Williams would have had and Joakim Noah will be slotted in for Harrell.
Because both players are due back before the start of the playoffs this is not a major concern for the LAC, but you never want to be without key players for too long. The sooner both can get back on the court, the better for the Clippers Championship aspirations.
Generally speaking, things are easier after you experienced them. Think back to your first visit to the Dentist, first date or first big test. If you are human any of those firsts drove up your blood pressure and left you with more than a few droplets of sweat on your forehead. The second time however likely, hopefully, was a bit smoother.
This is a big part of the reason the Toronto Raptors remain a favorite to win the East and play for the 2019-20 NBA Championship. The Raptors are good, but they are also defending Champs and that counts for something, both for prognosticators picking them and for the team. They know what that level of pressure is, they have sat in that chair, aced the date and passed the test.
Then, you look at the Clippers. Yes, they are fortunate to have a coach who has been there and a player in Kawhi Leonard who actually joined them after winning it all with the Raptors. But, after that the Finals experience cupboard is bare. Normally, this would be a bigger deal than it may be now. In a regular season, played in front of fans, with more media than normal and on your home court, the benefit of having played under those considerations comes into play.
These Finals will be played with fans accessing via Zoom, with limited media and in a neutral court in Orlando.
Those facts may actually favor a team like the Clippers as they pursue the franchises first NBA Championship. Yet, having a few more players who have been there in the past wouldn’t of hurt!
For a franchise that has never reached the Western Conference Finals, let alone the Finals, complacency should not be an issue. This is a team that seems to be aware of the franchises’ past, but focused on making their own future. Which, is exactly the mindset you want for a team asipring to great things.
Yet, they are now not A favorite to win it all, but THE favorite according to ESPN’s panel of experts.
It’s true that no NBA playoffs, do to the long layoff and bubble playing conditions, have been more difficult to handicap than these, that doesn’t keep people from having opinions. Those opinions matter to teams. The Clippers are aware of the expectations and other teams are as well. It is a bit off to think of this franchise in these terms when you consider their very recent string of unsuccessful seasons, but, these Clippers have a target on their back.
Being the favorites comes with it’s own unique pressure. Teams play harder against the favorites, and sometimes, the favorites play like the other team should just hand them the victory. These Clippers are going to face the very best from every team they play, both in the eight games leading up to the playoffs and, of course, in the playoffs. When this team is healthy and playing well they know they can beat any team playing its best. The trouble could come if the Clippers take their foot off the pedal and coast for any length of time in any game.
In this league that complacency, against any team in any game, could be the kiss of the death.
Doc Rivers and his coaching staff will no doubt do their best to keep the Clippers far from that possibility, but the possibility remains. In a very real way, the one big obstacle keeping this loaded Clippers team from lifting the Larry OB at seasons end, is themselves.