The conclusion to this three part series examines the Clippers chances in the Western Conference Finals and some X-Factors that might contribute to their success.In Part Two of this series we looked at the rest of 2012/13 and the potential playoffs match-ups. Part Three will look at the Clippers predicted opponent in the Western Conference Finals and brush over some X-Factors that may derail their season.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS vs OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDERIf the Clippers can make it all the way to the WCF then their likely opponent will be the Oklahoma City Thunder. This team poses a big threat to the Clippers as the Thunder match up quite well against them and have beaten them twice already this season. Keys to the Series Blake Griffin - As the Thunder have shown already this season, they can shut down Chris Paul pretty effectively by sticking Thabo Sefolosha on him. This means that Blake Griffin will need to shoulder more of the load if CP3 isn't able to run his usual game. He can't have any rough nights and will need to be smart with his decision making and really take charge of possessions. Defence - Who will tail Durant all game? Can they contain Russell Westbrook? We all know that Durant and Westbrook are supreme offensive players but they aren't beyond containment and if the Clippers want a chance at winning that's what they need to do. It won't be easy but between Caron Butler and Matt Barnes the Clippers need to take away Durant's space and crowd him as much as possible. Teams have shown before that he doesn't like being physical and will force bad shots as he gets frustrated at the lack of freedom. Westbrook is another problem that isn't easily solved. The Clippers don't have a guard that has the speed and size to keep up with him with either CP3 or Billups likely to take the defensive role. The best hope the Clippers have is to play amazing team defence, like they have been for most of the season and limit the damage that the rest of the team does. Battle of the Benches - While the Clippers have the best bench in the NBA, the Thunder aren't far behind with Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson and Hasheem Thabeet. This is an area that the Clippers need to dominate as Scott Brooks showed in the NBA Finals last year that he isn't afraid to give Westbrook or Ibaka extended spells on the bench. If the Clippers bench fires for five minute stretches then they can easily take the advantage in any of the games. Prediction - Despite the Clippers great improvement this season I see them falling at the Western Conference Finals to a much more experienced and talented team in Oklahoma City. The games will be a see-saw battle of will, skill and determination but I predict the Thunder taking the series 4-2.
X-FACTORSWhile the Clippers amazing regular season run has been impressive there are still so many factors that could shape this franchise's bid for an NBA title. Chris Paul's Health - The heart and soul of this team, CP3 has been their leader on and off the court for the past two seasons. The bulk of the improvement in this franchise can be put on his shoulders. While his will and spirit has never been in doubt, his body on the other hand has let him down before and is a problem right now. A healthy CP3 holds the keys to the NBA Finals for this Clippers squad so if he isn't 100% come that first round showdown then the whole operation is thrown into jeopardy. DeAndre Jordan - Jordan is like an old sports car that spends most of it's time in the garage under a cover, not working properly. The reason why we still keep the car is for the brief moments where you have it on a nice road, everything is working and the sun is shining. When Jordan is flying high, dunking, posting and blocking shots the Clippers look amazing but these moments are still reserved for small patches of a game. For the Clippers to really take the next step Jordan needs to be a consistent and multi-dimensional player capable of playing significant 4th quarter minutes. If he doesn't make that improvement then the teams success is put on the next man. Lamar Odom - The Lamar Experiment could have gone either way for the Clippers and early on it looked like it wasn't going to work when Odom was shooting 29% from the field and <10% from 3PT. The Clippers didn't lose faith and they have been rewarded with quality backup minutes from a player resembling the championship winning Lamar from the Lakers. He is now going to be a viable 4th quarter option for Vinnie Del Negro if DeAndre Jordan doesn't live up to his $40mil contract.
CONCLUSIONTurning around a perennial straggler into a contender isn't easy but the Clippers have shown with the right players, some smart signings and the right chemistry anything is possible. Their journey from that "It's going to be Lob City" YouTube moment to their current position has been nothing short of spectacular. With another year of development in Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and some further improvements to the roster I believe this team has the ability to win an NBA Championship. This year though isn't likely to be the year it happens but you never know what happens in the NBA. Amazing could happen and the Clippers battle their way to NBA glory.
Do you think the Clippers can go all the way or will they stumble in the playoffs? Post your thoughts in the comments section below. Photo Credit: Jim Mone/AP Photo