Another matchup on the 11 game Wednesday night NBA schedule with playoff implications features the Los Angeles Clippers taking on the Utah Jazz at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. These teams are separated by 1/2 game in the standings. Utah is in 6th place in the West with a 33-26 record while the Clippers are in 7th with a 34-28 record.
It seems like yesterday that the Los Angeles Clippers were a team on the rise in the West. After decades of general futility and only four playoff appearances in the 34 years between the team’s move (originally to San Diego) from Buffalo and the end of the 2010-2011 season things were looking up for the Clippers. In 2011-2012, they started a run where they never fell below a .600 regular season winning percentage and made the playoffs every year until the 2017-2018 season. Even then, they weren’t that bad finishing 2 games over .500.
Unfortunately, they had a great run of regular season play and did next to nothing in the playoffs. During the aforementioned six year playoff run which included two Pacific Division titles they never made it past the Conference Semifinals. In 2011-2012, the Clippers went 40-26 in a lockout shortened regular season and beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round only to get swept by the Spurs in the semifinals. The following year they went 56-26 and won the Pacific Division but was eliminated in six games by the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. They improved by one game to 57-25 the following year and made it past Golden State to win a 7 game series in the first round but were eliminated by Oklahoma City in the semifinals. The next year it was more of the same–56-26 in the regular season, a first round win over the Spurs before a semifinal ouster by the Rockets. Next season they went 53-29 losing to Portland in the first round and in 2016-2017 they went 51-31 but lost to the Jazz in the first round. Amazing that a team that consistently put up 50+ wins per season got nothing done in the playoffs.
They dealt with that ‘unpleasantness’ with former owner Donald Sterling without as much as a blip and got a deep pocketed new owner out of the deal with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer buying the team. They did emerge from the ownership transition as the 9th most valuable team in the NBA worth $2.2 billion. They traded away longtime poster boy Blake Griffin after signing him to an extension and at the recent trade deadline shipped Tobias Harris to Philadelphia. The Harris deal was considered a slam dunk win for Los Angeles–he wasn’t going to sign an extension and would walk in free agency. In return, the Clippers got a few servicable players (Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala) and a boatload of draft picks including a 2020 first-rounder, a 2021 unprotected 1st via Miami and two second rounders in 2021 and 2023. Harris was likely the Clippers best player and although the move was good for the team longterm it didn’t signal a desire to compete for a playoff spot this year.
Utah is the better team and has covered 8 of their last 11 games. The Jazz have been very strong at home going 19-10 SU/16-12 ATS but have struggled somewhat on the road. They’re 7-3 ATS against the Pacific Division this year. Both teams should be well rested–the Jazz last played at home against Dallas on Saturday while the Clippers beat Dallas at home on Monday night. Utah has absolutely dominated the Clippers over the past two seasons winning the last four matchups both SU/ATS by margins of 20, 22, 12 and 19 points.
The Jazz may have been dominated head to head but you have to like the way that Doc Rivers has gotten his team to respond since the Harris deal. The Clippers might not have the best talent in the West but Doc gets great effort out of them every night. At an inflated price due to recent form they should be able to stay inside the number here.