The news of Chris Paul‘s hand injury that will keep him out six to eight weeks is seriously bad news for the Clippers. They’ve been without Blake Griffin for a few weeks now and doing okay, but without Chris Paul things could get very bad very fast. Austin Rivers will take over as a starter and while he is much better than he once was, he is still nowhere near the level of Chris Paul. This is the biggest loss any team has suffered this season and the Clippers are in trouble.
How big of a loss is this? HUGE. The on/off numbers at Basketball References say that Chris Paul is a +19.6 point difference from on the court versus off. That’s 20 points per game that will be very difficult to replace. We had thought that they were in trouble earlier this season by dropping to the fourth seed, but that doesn’t look like the floor for them and they could drop even further.
Hot on their tail has been the Utah Jazz who are two games behind them in the standings, but have really been coming on lately. The defense of Rudy Gobert and unique offensive talents of Gordon Hayward has been guiding them and this team should only get better. I think they are a strong bet to move into the fourth seed and hold on to it.
Then just two games behind them, four games behind LAC, are the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies who are both sitting at a 25-18 record.
For the Grizzlies, it’s a matter of health. They have a solid core, but they haven’t seen Chandler Parsons at 100% much this year and Mike Conley had his own injuries. They are an interesting team that should cause trouble for whoever they are matched up with in the playoffs, but it is hard to see them making a big leap here. That said, they are one of the most consistent teams in the league so if they are able to move ahead of the Clips in the standings it’s hard to see them letting it up.
As for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, it’s hard to see how this team can improve much on where it is now. There is simply so much pressure on Westbrook night in and night out that them playing much better than they have without outside help seems very unlikely. I could see them settling into this seventh seed.
So, in theory, that leaves the Clippers as the sixth seed in the West. While having Paul and Griffin back makes them a dangerous team, playing either the Spurs or the Rockets in a road series is not exactly an ideal situation for any team.
The best series to be in here would be the four vs. five seed as that is the series that gives you the best chance of moving onto the second round. Nobody is touching the Warriors up top, but the Spurs and Rockets are pretty scary teams in their own right and the six or seven seed doesn’t offer much hope.
It’s hard to see the Clippers, who have dropped off a lot with Paul, to maintain a four/five seed without him. It’s probably time to blow up the Clippers. Except they have nothing to trade and nobody wants what they have. What a terrible situation to be in.