Now Reading
Clippers Believed They Could Withstand The Heat of the Suns

Clippers Believed They Could Withstand The Heat of the Suns

Going into the 2022-23 NBA season, polarizing sports journalist Skip Bayless had the utmost faith in the Los Angeles Clippers; memorably pounding his fists on the nationally broadcast television show “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.” Bayless told his counterpart, Shannon Sharpe, that the Warriors and the Clippers would be the final teams standing in the Western Conference. However, when the actual season began, the Clippers were faced with the same issue that has plagued the franchise since its inception: injuries. 

In early December, two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was faced with an ankle injury that sidelined him for several games. Then in March, the sixth-man of the year contender Norman Powell went down with a dislocated left shoulder and perennial All-Star Paul George went down with a sprained knee. For most of their tenure in Los Angeles, the Clippers’ two stars of Leonard and George have been hurt, and neither have played the full length of a season. These injuries, mixed with the signing of struggling point guard Russell Westbrook, were enough for Bayless to abandon the Clippers as his pick to win the Western Conference Finals. 

Some sports commentators, like ex-NBA player Kendrick Perkins, still believed in the Clippers even after Bayless’s denouncement – but that faded after the Clippers were matched up with the Suns for the first round of the playoffs. According to Sharpe and commentator Nick Wright, the Clippers stood no chance. Regardless, Clipper Nation has yet to give up on their team.

At the start of the 2023 season, the Clippers looked formidable. With a healthy basketball team, the Clippers beat the Lakers 103-97 on opening day with Leonard coming off the bench. This impressive win is what had led many members of the media to call on the Clippers to be the favorite coming out of the west.

It was downhill from there. They were able to consistently beat teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-42) and the Dallas Mavericks (38-44), but the Clippers struggled against playoff caliber teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat them 119-106 shortly before the all-star break. In order to improve the team, the Clippers decided to make some moves before the trade deadline.

On Feb. 10, the Clippers changed the dynamic of their team. After many seasons as a fan favorite, the Clippers traded point guard Reggie Jackson to the Charlotte Hornets for center Mason Plumlee. In addition, the Clippers traded for Nuggets player Bones Hyland, who was unhappy with his role in Denver. While Plumlee has helped the team’s rebounding — averaging 6.9 rebounds off the bench  — Bones has averaged 10.8 points and has provided a much needed boost to the bench’s scoring ability. The biggest move the Clippers made came in the form of ex-Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook.

When he was signed by the Lakers, many fans complained about Westbrook’s playing style and believed his best years were behind him. As a 34-year-old ball dominant guard, playing alongside Lebron (another ball dominant player) proved to be very difficult. As the season continued, the team became visibly fractured and Westbrook stopped joining team huddles. Soon after, Westbrook was traded to the Utah Jazz before being bought out. A few weeks later, he signed with the Clippers.

While the Lakers’ fan base didn’t accept Westbrook and his style of play, he has gone on to fit in extremely well with the Clippers. His numbers with both teams this season are more or less the same, but his energy and aura are unmatched with his new team.

“Not only does Russ bring more energy to the organization but he brings an incredibly strong will to win,” said Ryan Bleier, the manager for Premium Services with the Clippers. “He loves to prove others wrong and that has been a theme of our team since we signed Kawhi and traded for PG so he fits in great. He is getting his game back in rhythm along with the team and we feel his best basketball is yet to come.”

See Also

What may have been initially seen as a bad signing by the Clippers, has turned into a move that has worked in their favor. With the Clippers, Russ was able to record a season high of 36 points against the Memphis Grizzlies three weeks ago. He has also served as floor general averaging over 7 assists per game. In addition, the Clippers points-per-game increased from 111.4 to 119.8 and their assists-per-game rose from 22.9 to 26.9.  With the help of Westbrook, the Clippers were able to secure the 5th seed in the West with a record of 44-38

The Clippers began their first round series on April 16, playing against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns recently traded for Kevin Durant and are the betting favorites in the Western Conference, and are not a new team to the Clippers. In 2021, the two teams met in the Western Conference Finals, where the Suns eventually advanced to the NBA Finals. 

This year, the Clippers looked to strike back, as Durant’s ex-teammate Westbrook aimed to lead the Clippers past the Suns. With the depth acquired at the deadline and its superstar Kawhi Leonard known for his playoff performances (including his buzzer beater to eliminate the 76ers from the 2019 playoffs) the Clippers stole Game 1 in Phoenix. The Clippers broke out to an early lead in the first quarter, but the Suns quickly bounced back due to Kevin Durant’s 27 points. The Suns bench was outscored by the Clippers bench, 34-10, and a clutch block by Westbrook with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Clippers. They would win the game 115-110. Although the Suns won Game 2, the series now shifts to Los Angeles where the Clippers will have back-to-back home games and an opportunity to gain a 3-1 series lead on the Suns.

“We have finally started to play some of our best basketball and the team is really clicking,” said Bleier. “We are expecting big things from this team and this roster.”

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.