Sometimes a crushing playoff loss can linger into the next season. And no team suffered a worst postseason defeat last year than the Clippers. Will it affect them? They have a wins total of 56.5 on Bovada's NBA odds.
Los Angeles had a terrific regular season in Coach Doc Rivers' second year as it won 56 games, which was just one shy of the franchise record set in 2013-14 when L.A. won the Pacific Division. Alas, Golden State won a league-best 67 games last year and the Pacific title so the Clippers were relegated to the No. 3 seed and a matchup with defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
There's no way those two teams should have met that early in the playoffs as both were championship-caliber -- perhaps that's part of the reason that the NBA has changed its playoff seeding system by disregarding division champions. Now it's only by a team's overall record.
But that Clippers-Spurs series was an epic one. Los Angeles trailed 3-2 but won 102-96 in San Antonio to force a Game 7. And that game lived up to the billing. Clippers point guard Chris Paul, playing through an injured hamstring, hit the shot of his career, a running bank shot over the outstretched arm of Tim Duncan with just a second left to lead the Clippers to a 111-109 victory. It was easily the most memorable shot of the 2014-15 playoffs.
Many thought the Clippers might be drained for their conference semifinals series against Houston. But Los Angeles jumped out to a 3-1 series lead with three blowouts. Houston took Game 5 at home but the Clippers were in command at home in Game 6 with a 19-point third-quarter lead. The franchise's first trip to the conference finals was in the bag. Only it wasn't. For some reason, the Clippers imploded upon themselves and were outscored 51-20 the rest of the way. The Clippers shot just 18.2 percent (4-of-22) in the fourth quarter, their worst playoff shooting percentage in a quarter in 20 seasons. Game 7 almost seemed like a formality after that collapse, and the Clippers lost 113-100 in Houston.
So Rivers no doubt had his work cut out for him this summer either trying to convince his team to put that loss behind it or to use as motivation for this season. The 2013-14 Spurs did that after choking away Game 6 of the 2013 Finals in Miami and it worked.
The Clippers were 37-44-1 on NBA picks last season and 36-43-3 'over/under.'
Clippers Able To Keep Jordan
The Clippers will have a handful of new players, but let's talk first about the key guy returning. And that's center DeAndre Jordan. He had agreed to a free-agent deal with Dallas. It was over. But then Jordan started having second thoughts and the Clippers pounced -- there's nothing against NBA rules in talking to a player before he signs a contract. Chris Paul cut short a Caribbean trip and visited Jordan in Houston, telling his big man that he would get Jordan more involved in the offense and that the Clippers couldn't move forward without him. Reports had been that the relationship between Paul and Jordan was strained and that's why Jordan was leaving. But Paul convinced him. Jordan led the NBA in rebounding (15.0 rpg) and field-goal percentage (71 percent) while averaging 11.5 points last year. He's a difference-maker despite being a terrible free-throw shooter. When it was thought that Jordan was going to Dallas, the Clippers' NBA odds to win the title rose from +1000 to +2000.
The Clippers' bench was one of the worst in the NBA last year. It was essentially Jamal Crawford and that's it (unless you think Austin Rivers was something). So Rivers went about adding depth this offseason. He traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to Charlotte for Lance Stephenson, who was excellent two seasons ago with Indiana but terrible last year with the Hornets. He's probably somewhere in the middle of those. The Clippers also added Pablo Prigioni, Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich. So now there's a pretty solid second group behind starters Paul, J.J. Redick, Pierce, Blake Griffin and Jordan.
In many ways, this might be the final chance for this group, led by Paul and Griffin, to win a title. “We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers said. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win.”
NBA Picks: I like this team. Pierce is simply a winner and brings that attitude everywhere he goes. And I believe there is a sense of urgency here. Go 'over' the 56.5 wins at Bovada. Not ready to make any more futures picks yet -- make sure no injuries in camp/exhibitions -- but this club could win it all.