2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Clippers (4) - Jazz (5)

2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Clippers (4) - Jazz (5)


Series Schedule:

Game 1: Monday, 4/15 @ LAC

Game 2: Wednesday, 4/18 @ LAC

Game 3: Friday, 4/21 @ Utah

Game 4: Sunday, 4/23 @ Utah

Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, 4/25 @ LAC

Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, 4/28 @ Utah

Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, 4/30 @ LAC

Regular Season Series Results:

The Clippers won 3 out of 4 games against the Jazz to win the regular season series.

Players To Watch:

Los Angeles Clippers:

Chris Paul: Traditionally, the Utah Jazz have owned the Los Angeles Clippers, with an all-time, head-to-head record of 100-77. Since the trade that brought Chris Paul to Los Angeles though, the Clippers have reversed their fortunes going 20-3 against the Jazz in that time. The Clippers, as they do, live and die with Paul. Paul ranks third in plus/minus after only MVP front runners Russell Westbrook and James Harden. When Paul plays, the Clippers post a 14.9 net rating per NBA.com. To put that in perspective, the Warriors led the league in point differential by a hefty margin with a net rating of 11.6. The Clippers are still REALLY good with Chris Paul. Conversely, they're really bad when he's not on the court, putting up a ghastly -5.3 point differential when Paul sits. A mark that would rank sixth worst in the league during the regular season.

Blake Griffin: To put it bluntly, the Clipper's second star has not looked the same since returning from a knee injury in January. He has still remained an effective player thanks to his much improved jump shot, bullying post-up game, and high IQ passing, but he's been lacking what made him special. That otherworldly athleticism that allowed him to perform superhuman actions and end (Mozgov's) people's careers seems to have dissipated. Maybe he's saving some bounce for the playoffs, but maybe he just had one too many knee surgeries. Either way, Griffin's future with the Clippers seems tenuous. It would make me sad if the last image that Clippers fans have of Blake is him shooting a twenty-foot jumper over James Michael McAdoo, down 20 in the fourth quarter to the Warriors.

Jamal Crawford: The NBA's answer to Pharrell Williams; the ageless Crawford continues to get buckets coming off of the Clippers' bench. While he's definitely lost a step, and is a complete liability on defense, he still has the ability to put together little runs by himself to prop up the bench unit's offense, should it bog down. Against a stout Utah defense, that could be a useful skill should points become hard to come by. As usual, it will be a balancing act for Doc Rivers to get the most out of Crawford offensively, while mitigating his negative defensive impact.

Utah Jazz: 

Gordon Hayward: All eyes will be on Hayward this series. Hayward's game made major strides this year and he really grew into the role of go-to scorer this year, averaging a career high 22.0 points per game with .47/.39/.84 splits. Other than Prince Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, the Clippers don't really have anyone that can keep up with Hayward on the wing. For Hayward this represents an opportunity to prove on a national stage that he can be the best player on a championship-level team. For the Jazz, if they're are going to win this series, they're going to need some big-time production from their franchise star.

Joe Johnson: Well, it sure seems like the former all-star shooting guard is the best option the Jazz have at power forward at this point. Derrick Favors has been bothered by knee injuries all year, the Doughy Frenchman (Boris Diaw) could be a spokesman for Pillsbury at this point, while second-year-man Trey Lyles is still pretty raw and failed to improve on his promising rookie year as much as the Jazz had hoped he would. Johnson gives them a stretchier look at the four spot and almost all of the Jazz' top lineups this year have featured him in some capacity. It will be interesting to see how coach Quin Snyder handles the matchups. Even in his somewhat diminished state, Blake Griffin will still be a handful for Johnson, but Johnson may be too important for the Jazz to keep him off the court.

What's at stake?

Despite being at different ends of the contention cycle, these two teams have a lot more in common than you might think at first glance. The outcome of this series could have enormous repercussions for the losing franchise. Come this summer, both of these teams will have some tough personnel decisions to make.

For the Clippers, this is year six with the current nucleus. Unfortunately for them, as good as the trifecta of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan have been, they have seemingly reached their ceiling. This current group has never made it past round two of the playoffs and seem unlikely to this year seeing as they will have to go through the Warriors, who they have been utterly inept against for three years. If the Clippers lose in the first round its easy to envision them orchestrating a major shakeup in the offseason. Even if they do win, there might be major changes coming.

Although this is Utah's first playoff appearance since the names Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer rang through the Vivint Smart Home Arena, they are reaching sort of a crossroads with their core as well. All-star forward Gordon Hayward and starting point guard George Hill are both unrestricted free agents this year (assuming Hayward opts out) and both will likely demand a hefty sum of money to stay. If Hayward re-signs for the max and Hill re-signs for near the max, all of a sudden that's enough money to effectively lock Utah into its current team for the foreseeable future. And that's without even considering possible new contracts for Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, whose contracts are both up in 2018. Should they lose in the first round to the Clippers, the small-market Jazz will have to think long and hard about whether this is the team they want to be locked into going forward.

Of course the doomsday scenario for the Jazz is that they face an early exit and Hayward decides to leave in free agency to chase a championship in Boston with his former college coach and close friend, Brad Stevens.

The Verdict:

This will likely be a physical, competitive series. If Derrick Favors returns and is effective after battling knee issues, then the matchup might even evoke some memories of the good ol' 90's. These two teams are very evenly matched. They each finished with identical 51-31 records, with the Clippers only getting home court due to their head-to-head tie breaker. The Clippers posted the league's 5th best offensive rating and its 12th best defensive rating. While the Jazz nearly had nearly the inverse rankings, posting league's 3rd best defensive rating and its 12th best offensive rating. Unfortunately for both these teams (more so for the Clippers, who I think are legal property of the Warriors at this point), the reward for winning this series is a second-round matchup with top-seeded Golden State. Even with their fate likely sealed in the next round, both of these teams have a lot riding on this series. It's entirely possible that we look back at this series and see it as a turning point for one, or both, of these franchises.

With that being said, my prediction is: Clippers in 7.