Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day action of an NBA Season. With an 82 game schedule there is kind of an ebb and flow to the year, and people who cover the league will tend to seek out more novel stories when the season is droning on during the winter months. It gets really easy to sleep on the obvious powerhouses like Milwaukee and the LA teams when Houston has decided to get weird with their lineups, Jason Tatum is making the leap to Superstar, or Zion Williamson is doing things that seem to break all laws of physics. But last night the Clippers put the league on notice, stomping the Denver Nuggets 132–102.
The Clippers had 32 assists in the win. Seven players scored in the double digits. Paul George hit 6–8 shots from deep, and scored 24 points in just 25 minutes. Kawhi Leonard was also impressive, scoring 19 points in 25 minutes (he sat out the fourth quarter). It’s fun to watch Leonard and Kawhi operate. Leonard is becoming one of the league’s best post-up players, with some of the best footwork in the post we’ve seen out of a wing since Kobe Byrant (RIP). Paul George is still trying to find his game after sitting out most of January, but last night he was lights out shooting, hitting a couple nice stepbacks, and had a great defensive highlight, diving for a loseball that resulted in a Clippers fast break.
What may be the scariest thing about this Clippers squad is its depth. Even when Leonard and George go to the bench, the Clips can be lethal. The combination of Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams has been effective all season, and now with the addition of Reggie Jackson, there’s no lack of scoring in the second unit. When the rotation shortens up for the playoffs, you could easily see Paul George sliding into the three-spot to start the second and fourth quarter and leading the best second unit of all the playoff teams. George got a couple of easy corner threes playing off of Lou Williams and Montres Harrell’s pick-and-roll game. It had the feel of Klay Thompson getting open shots even though he is, you know, Klay Thompson because teams have to respect the pick-and-roll when players like Curry or Sweet Lou are hot.
After the Clippers made their big splash this summer most experts believed that they would be the team to beat in 2020, but Paul George missed a lot of time to start the season and while Kawhi has been great throughout, they are a completely different animal when both are in the lineup. It’s been odd seeing people question whether or not the team would be ready for the playoffs, but last night’s win was a definitive answer. Denver never had a chance. Outside of a couple nice plays from Nikola Jokavic and Jamal Murray, they were completely taken off of their game. For the Nuggets, who are currently tied with the Clippers for the West’s second seed, this has to be disheartening. They play the Lakers and Clippers again in back-to-back games in a couple of weeks, and have to find some answers soon.
The interesting thing about having the West’s two top teams playing in the same building is that there is no such thing as home court advantage when they meet in the playoffs. Los Angeles is, and always will be, a Lakers city. No matter who is the “home team” in a series featuring these two the Lakers will have more fans in the stands. You can understand how Doc Rivers and the Clippers management may have taken advantage of this when it came to giving players extra rest and not going hard after the one-seed, especially when the Lakers started pulling away from the field.
Now that we are entering the final stretch of the regular season expect to see the Clippers start to put their foot on the gas. They are on a three game win streak that included thirty-point blowouts over Denver and Memphis. The additions of Marcus Morris via trade and Reggie Jackson off of waivers have rounded out a team with reliable veterans. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the leagues premier backcourt combination, and these last regular season games will be a good dress rehearsal for the playoffs. The Clippers win last night felt like a moment signaling the dog days of the regular season have come to an end, and a contender has emerged.
Originally published at http://justinjacobs.wordpress.com on February 29, 2020.