Entering last season, the Los Angeles Clippers were my pick to come out of the Western Conference. And I really would have liked to have seen them get a chance at the top-seeded and eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, especially the way the Clips closed the regular season on fire.
In some ways, the New Orleans Pelicans killed the Clippers last year. That's because the Pelicans beat the San Antonio Spurs on the final night of the regular season. That meant No. 3 seed Los Angeles had to face the No. 6 Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs. It was easily the greatest first-round playoff series in NBA history, with L.A. winning Game 7 111-109 on an incredible running layup by a hobbled Chris Paul over the outstretched arm of San Antonio's Tim Duncan. I honestly didn't expect the Clips to even win Game 6 in Texas to force the Game 7.
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Some people don't think that draining Spurs series had any effect on the Clippers. And indeed L.A. took a 3-1 series lead over Houston in the conference semifinals. But then I wonder if fatigue hit a bit. The Rockets clobbered the Clippers in Game 5. Then came one of the biggest playoff choke jobs in league history as the Clips led Houston 87-68 late in the third quarter of Game 6, only to be outscored 51-20 the rest of the way -- and Rockets star James Harden had very little to do with that. It was only the third time in NBA history that a team playing at home with a chance to clinch a playoff series blew a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter. L.A. was just 4-for-22 in the fourth quarter and outscored by 25. There was no way Los Angeles was going to win a Game 7 in Houston after that collapse, and the Rockets finished things off 113-100.
Clippers 2015-16 Season Betting Story Lines
Even Coach Doc Rivers admits the championship window might close on this group after this season if the Clippers don't win it all. Paul is the arguably the NBA's best point guard, but his playoff record is rather spotty. Blake Griffin is a Top-10 player, and he was fantastic in last year's postseason. But sometimes the pieces simply don't work for whatever reason. The Clippers obviously should have beaten Houston last season. In 2014, they gagged away a late lead in Game 6 against the Thunder with a chance to clinch and lost in seven. And in 2013, L.A. blew a 2-0 lead in the first round to Memphis, dropping the next four.
We wouldn't even be talking about titles for this team had center DeAndre Jordan, who led the NBA in field-goal percentage and rebounding last year while remaining a destructive force on defense, kept his word to the Dallas Mavericks. Jordan, a Texas native who lives in Houston, verbally agreed to a four-year max deal to sign with Dallas. There were rumors he and Paul weren't getting along and that Jordan wanted to be more involved in an offense. All he does is get alley-oops or putbacks. You don't see offensive plays called for the guy.
Unfortunately for Dallas, there's a moratorium of a week or so in between when players can agree to contracts and then officially sign them. And during that week, Jordan had second thoughts. Paul cut short a Caribbean vacation to head to Houston and recruit Jordan, and the relationship was saved. Paul and a few other Clippers players, along with Rivers, basically kidnapped Jordan the night he could sign his contract to keep Mavericks officials away from him. That blew up Twitter as I'm sure you remember. It was great theater. And Jordan never did let Mavs owner Mark Cuban get a second chance to re-change his mind. Absolutely must-see TV on Nov. 11 as the Clippers visit Dallas for the first time this season. I'm fairly certain there will be extra security there because Jordan is obviously not well-liked in that city right now. He ruined the Mavs for at least the next few years. But technically, the Clippers did nothing wrong. The NBA might change its moratorium rules going forward, however.
So the Clippers' Big 3 are back. The team also added a veteran presence, proven winner (which this team clearly needed) and clutch player in Paul Pierce, who won a title in Boston under Rivers. So now you have a very strong starting five of Paul, J.J. Redick, Pierce, Griffin and Jordan. The bench was a huge weakness last year, basically Jamal Crawford and scrubs. Rivers took care of that problem by trading Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to Charlotte in a low-risk, high-reward move for Lance Stephenson; the team also signed free-agent big men Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich, forward Wesley Johnson and point guard Pablo Prigioni. That should be a good second unit.
The Clippers, who closed the preseason on Thursday night, open the season next Wednesday in Sacramento.
Clippers 2015-16 Betting Odds
At BetOnline , Los Angeles is +200 to win the Pacific Division, +600 to win the Western Conference and +1000 to win the NBA title. The Clippers have an "over/under" wins total of 57, with the over a -125 favorite. Paul is +1600 to win MVP and Griffin +1800. Griffin is +2500 to lead the NBA in points per game, Paul is the -150 favorite to lead in assists, and Jordan the +175 co-favorite with Detroit's Andre Drummond to win the rebounding title again.
Clippers 2015-16 Betting Predictions
I think this team is significantly better than last year's on paper -- and presumably hungrier after that crushing Rockets loss. If Stephenson is 75 percent of the guy he was in Indiana, that trade was a steal. Pierce showed in last year's playoffs he's still the player you want with the ball in his hands at the end of a game. L.A. and Golden State should battle all season for the division title. I'm saying the Clippers win it, and I'm going over the wins. But L.A. falls short again in the West. Go yes on Paul for assists and Jordan on rebounds. And I'm throwing a few dollars on Griffin for MVP -- if he plays like he did in the playoffs, he will be in the mix.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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