Clippers

Tough Upcoming Stretch Will Define Clippers’ Fate

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After a seemingly never ending All-Star break where the Clippers had one player representing in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the unofficial “second half” is officially upon us.

Big fourth quarter performances from Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers to a 112-106 win over the Grizzlies Friday night. The road does not get easier, as the Clips have a tough nine-game stretch heading into early March. On Sunday, the Clippers head to the Mile High City to take on the Nuggets. Then, LA will try to defend homecourt against the Mavericks. However, the schedule continues to worsen, with games against the Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Thunder, Celtics and Blazers on the horizon.

Excluding the games against the Knicks and Mavericks, the other teams are either in the top eight or near it in their respective conferences. For a team that is in the heat of trying to make the playoffs, the Clippers will have a tough stretch ahead of them. Let’s take a look at the tough matchups in the Clippers next 9 games.

Nuggets

Currently the 2nd ranked team in the West, the Nuggets will provide the Clips with their toughest matchup on this 10-game swing. Nikola Jokic is a handful to guard, and with great supporting cast around him, the Nuggets are a dangerous team. Defense will be key in order to contain Jokic and crew, as well as having Lou Williams, Landry Shamet and Danilo Gallinari nailing 3s. If the game was in LA, the Clips have a better chance to win the game. But with having to travel from Memphis to Denver, this game will by far by the toughest for the Clippers.

Jazz

While the Jazz have had a somewhat underwhelming season, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert always are a dangerous duo. Utah’s calling card has always been defense, and to no surprise, it has continued into this season. Ranking 3rd in defensive efficiency, the Utah defense will provide a tough task for LA. With Harrell and Ivica Zubac locking down the middle, those two vs. Gobert will truly be a sight to see. Look for Clippers’ high scoring offense, which is ranked 7th in highest scoring offenses, to prevail.

Kings

The team that has been one of the biggest shocks this season, the Kings are in the heat of the playoff race. Led by De ‘Aaron Fox, the Kings showed they are all in to ending their 12 year playoff drought by acquiring Harrison Barnes from the Mavericks. Don’t forget about Buddy Hield, who is putting up 20 points per game and is making the Pelicans look terrible for trading him. Sitting right behind the Clippers in the standings, this game can have huge implications down the line.

Lakers

With LeBron entering his “playoff mode” early, the end of the world is now here. When LeBron enters his “playoff mode”, it seems as if all his teammates finally gel together and can look utterly dominant. Maybe Lou Will and Zubac unleash their inner dominance against their former team. Another edition of the Staples Center rivalry is sure to be another great matchup.

Thunder

In what should be a high scoring game, the Thunder, who have looked completely different for the better without Carmelo Anthony, face the Clippers for an intriguing matchup. If the Clippers are able to force Russell Westbrook into taking even more terrible shots than usual, LA could easily blow out the Thunder. Welllllll not so fast, as the Thunder can then turn to Paul George to get buckets for them instead. With the Clippers able to counter Westbrook and George’s scoring with Gallo and Lou Will, it should lead to a lot of points on the scoreboard.

Celtics

The last time these teams met, the Celtics blew a 28-point lead on their home court in what was a highlight win for the Clippers’ season.  The offensive dynamo for the Celtics is Kyrie Irving, an offensive mastermind who can torture teams in many different ways. Both SGA and Patrick Beverley will be tasked with stopping Kyrie defensively. With the Celtics also having Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier III, and Gordon Hayward, there are a lot of offensive options that the Clippers will have to cover.

Trail Blazers

For the Trail Blazers, two players stick out for obvious reasons: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. However, you can not forget their man in the middle, Jusuf Nurkic, better known as the Bosnian Beast. While the Blazers can put up numbers offensively, Portland has been an average defensive team. Look for the Clippers to take advantage of the poor defense by finding mismatches through the pick and roll and off-ball movement.

Starting off the second half of the season with a tough nine-game stretch is hard for any team. For a young Clippers team with their sights set on the playoffs, however, this is the perfect test. While this stretch could possibly be a defining moment in the Clippers season– it can show where they stack up with some of the top teams in the NBA. With Steve Ballmer stating on Thursday night that he expects this Clippers team to make the playoffs, this stretch will show if they are playoff ready.

Have any questions? Ask me them on Twitter @trevorrichhudd

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