At a certain point, we need to reckon with the disconnect between the Clippers team we expected and the Clippers team we’re actually getting. They are still the most talented team in the NBA, and they should have breezed through the first two rounds. Instead, they’ve lost two games apiece to injury-riddled Dallas and Denver teams that were not in their stratosphere during the regular season. They play as though they can flip the switch whenever they’d like, yet the act of flipping that switch seems exceedingly laborious.
The Clippers are going to make it through the second round, in all likelihood. But the Lakers, Celtics and Heat are far less forgiving than the Mavericks and Nuggets. If they don’t find themselves now, these could be their final celebratory minutes of the postseason. Here are today’s best bets with that in mind.
Date: Sunday, Sept. 13 | Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: Disney Wide World of Sports — Orlando, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Odds: Clippers -8.5 | Over/Under: 214.5 (via William Hill Sportsbook)
The actual evidence that the Clippers are significantly better than the Nuggets just doesn’t exist. Outside of a Game 1 blowout explainable by Denver’s exhaustion following their Game 7 victory over the Utah Jazz, the Clippers have only led this series by a cumulative total of two points. They’ve never solved the Nikola Jokic matchup, Doc Rivers continues to use questionable lineups, and again, the Clippers just never evolved into the dominant force we expected. That team is still in there, from a talent perspective, but until it reveals itself, don’t expect the Nuggets to go away quietly.
Now, all of that said, the Clippers should still be expected to win this game, just not cover. If this game is close, remember that they still have Kawhi Leonard and the Nuggets don’t. He is tied with Jimmy Butler for the third-most clutch points in the postseason (22), and he’s shot at over a 55 percent clip in those situations. Jamal Murray is ahead of him on both counts, but largely thanks to the Utah series. He hasn’t scored a single clutch point yet in this matchup. Always trust Kawhi, the executioner.
Game 7 against Utah gave us a glimpse of what Denver can look like against a truly locked in closeout-game defense. They scored only 80 points in the win. The Clippers don’t have their backs that far against the wall yet, but the Lakers have already advanced to the Western Conference finals. The Clippers aren’t messing around here. They’re going to want to seal the deal and begin preparations for the series we’ve waited all year for.