Two years after their elimination in the 2021 Western Conference Finals, the LA Clippers have made their way back to the NBA Playoffs. Two losses in the double-elimination Play-In Tournament in 2022, both without Kawhi Leonard and the latter without Paul George, led to a rare first round without the Clippers, who will appear in the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 12 years when their series against the Suns tips off Sunday evening. The franchise saw just six postseason appearances in its first 41 seasons, spanning time as the Buffalo Braves, San Diego Clippers, and LA Clippers (technically, with the innovation of the play-in tournament, they’ve made the postseason 11 of the last 12 years).

Even as the Clippers have entered their playoff era after decades at the bottom of the NBA standings, misfortunes have haunted them. I already noted that they didn’t get to play in the 2022 playoffs despite achieving a top-8 finish due to having their stars unavailable in the play-in tournament. Their 2021 Western Conference Finals run, the best in franchise history, saw Kawhi Leonard tear his ACL, forcing the team to play, and be eliminated, without their best player. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were chronically hurt during the Lob City era’s playoff runs, with the team losing in the first round in back-to-back years in 2016 (without both stars) and 2017 (without Griffin). This year, despite their best caution, an unfortunate late-season knee injury to Paul George has once again left the Clippers facing an uphill playoff battle.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, 4/16 – 5:00pm PT – TNT and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 2: Tuesday, 4/18 – 7:00pm PT – TNT and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 3: Thursday, 4/20 – 7:30pm PT – NBATV and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 4: Saturday, 4/22 – 12:30pm PT – TNT and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 5: Tuesday, 4/25 – Time TBD – National TV TBD and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 6: Thursday, 4/27 – Time TBD – National TV TBD and Bally Sports SoCal
Game 7: Saturday, 4/29 – Time TBD – National TV TBD and Bally Sports SoCal

What’s that old saying about insult and injury? As if heading into the playoffs without Paul George wasn’t bad enough, the NBA’s schedulemakers went as far as they could to exacerbate the issue by making them play as many games as quickly as possible. The Suns-Clippers series is the only Western Conference first round series without an extra day off during the first four games (Grizzlies-Lakers and Kings-Warriors both have 2 extra days off during games 1-4), and their game 4 will tip off 7 hours before the Lakers’ game 3. It might not end up mattering, but the Clippers’ accelerated schedule could really cost them as they await a potential mid-series return from George.

Clippers fans will be happy to be reminded, after a year away from the playoffs, that local broadcasts continue to carry games through the first round of the NBA Playoffs, meaning that in-market viewers can still catch Brien Sieman and company a few more times this year.

The Big Picture

It’s hard to not be frustrated with how the Clippers’ 2022-23 campaign played out. It’s perhaps even more frustrating that an injured superstar might be what puts the final nail in LA’s coffin once again. After an ACL injury to Kawhi Leonard left him on the sidelines as the Clippers were eliminated each of the last two seasons, one hope balanced even the lowest moments of the last few months: get to the playoffs healthy, and a 2-time NBA Finals MVP would be on our side. As the playoffs get ready to begin, that much is true, but without his superstar sidekick, Clippers fans are faced with an all-too-familiar looming feeling.

Even if George’s absence is the elephant in the room all series, it’s worth recounting a tumultuous year that was far from on track when he went down against Oklahoma City a few weeks ago. The season was thrown in to disarray early, as a last-minute decision was made hours before opening night tip-off that Leonard was not ready to play a full game of starter’s minutes as he worked back from his ACL surgery. Remember when Kawhi was coming off the bench in the middle of the second quarter and playing second halves? It feels like a bad dream, as do the 19 games the Clippers played without him in the early weeks of the season, completely unsure if and when he’d be returning and what he’d look like when he did. It wasn’t just pessimism from fans, either: the uncertainty around their best player’s health had an effect on the morale and performance of Leonard’s teammates, too.

To Leonard’s credit, after missing 19 of the Clippers’ first 24 games, he played in 47 of the remaining 58, averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. One of the biggest subplots of the 2022-23 season: Kawhi Leonard was BACK back, playing at an All-NBA level, getting to his spots and ruthlessly punishing defenses from them, and winning basketball games. The Clippers were 33-19 with Kawhi in the lineup this season, a better winning percentage than the West’s 2 seed, Memphis (with the significant caveat that every team has to play–and lose–games while missing different combinations of their best players, so the Clippers with Kawhi vs other teams’ full seasons is not a simple or definitive comparison).

But around Leonard’s intermittent absences, the team struggled to find consistent, effective combinations. Incumbent starting point guard Reggie Jackson fell off a cliff after a hard fall in Portland in December, ultimately losing the gig during a 6-game slide before being dealt at the trade deadline. Marcus Morris, a fixture at power forward for the last four years, started 65 of the Clippers’ first 75 games before losing the job to Nico Batum and simultaneously dealing with an illness and back spasms that leave his role unclear heading into the playoffs. Terance Mann went from the fringe of the rotation to starting for a month before the All-Star Break in what was the best stretch of play the team had this year before heading back to the second unit down the stretch. Veteran forward Robert Covington signed a $22M extention just to find himself not in Ty Lue’s plans. The team played without a backup center for much of the year before acquiring Mason Plumlee at the trade deadline. Fellow deadline acquisition Eric Gordon is starting in place of the injured Paul George over longer-tenured teammates. Sophomore guard Bones Hyland is simultaneously the guard who has been most effective in George’s absence and appears most likely to not get minutes in this series. The year has been a mess of four-guard lineups, waning intensity levels, and misdiagnosed issues causing a new stumble every time it felt like the team was ready to find its stride. Even their pair of wins to close the season was troubling, as they barely found a way to survive contests against opponents who were trying to lose.

Despite it all, the Clippers are here. I don’t think we ever dreamed that avoiding the play-in tournament would be a triumph, but they managed it in the closing weeks of the season despite George’s injury. They play the games for a reason. They have talent, experience, and versatility, with a coach who is renowned for finding the right tweaks in best-of-7 playoff series. We’ve waited all year to see if the Clippers were going to find a way to put it all together and make something out of this season. This is their final, and most meaningful, chance to find the best version of themselves.

The Antagonist

In the other corner, we have a Phoenix Suns team that has hardly had a season together at all. Kevin Durant–you might have heard of him–was brought in at the trade deadline in a major blockbuster and has only played 8 games due to an ankle injury. The team’s leader in minutes played this year, Mikal Bridges, hasn’t been on the team for two months. Jae Crowder, Phoenix’s starting power forward the last two seasons, never played a game this year due to a breakdown over extension talks and his planned removal from the starting lineup in favor of Cameron Johnson, who wound up playing just 17 games in an injury-riddled half-season before being a part of the Durant trade. Devin Booker missed 29 games, including almost all of a 2-12 mid-season stretch where the team struggled to stay afloat while severely depleted. Phoenix’s 5th starter is Timberwolves reject Josh Okogie, who signed a one-year minimum contract last summer and was never expected to play this type of role (more on him later).

Phoenix has a very good top 4–Durant, Booker, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton–and a lot of question marks surrounding them. Those 4 guys have only played 159 minutes together. They’ve won those minutes by a staggering 62 points (a rate of about 19 points per game), though the competition level is highly suspect and the small sample is highly unstable. The fit makes natural sense, and the high talent levels and complementary skillsets should allow for those guys to play intuitively without needing a major adjustment period. So far, it’s fair to say that they’ve aced a series of easy tests. They’re 8-0 when Durant plays, but five of those games came against lottery teams and two came against noncompetitive Denver Nuggets lineups that didn’t include Nikola Jokic. The best signature win on the Suns’ resume in the Durant era? A 7-point home win against Western Conference 8-seed Minnesota in Phoenix. When game 1 tips off on Sunday, the Clippers will immediately be the best opponent that the Suns’ new core 4 has faced.

Will that affect the Suns negatively early in the series? It’s hard to say. After all, the Clippers’ current presumed starting lineup without George or Morris has even fewer games together than the Suns’, and as mentioned above, LA’s rotation has been an inconsistent medley throughout the year. Still, no presence in the Clippers’ rotation is quite as unfamiliar or quite as imposing as Durant’s.

Here’s what you can count on from Phoenix: they’ll play at a very low pace, focusing on different combinations of on- and off-ball screens involving all 5 players on the floor to target different matchups for Booker and Durant. Even as his individual prowess has declined, Paul can still pull the strings as well as anyone, meaning efforts to double Durant or Booker are going to be punished when the ball finds his hands out of a trap and gimmicky pick-and-roll coverages will be read and exploited. The core 4 will play the bulk of the minutes, although it’s possible that head coach Monty Williams tries to protect his guys’ from wear and tear in an opening-round series where they are heavily favored, especially in the early games. None of those guys are particularly durable, and Clippers fans know all too well how hard it is to get Chris Paul through a playoff run healthy.

When they go to the bench, there are a number of different options, most of whom focus their contributions on one end of the floor. Cameron Payne is a speed demon ballhandler who has tortured LAC’s slower defenders in the past. Landry Shamet, Terrence Ross, Damion Lee, and T.J. Warren can all provide shooting on the wings. My guess is only one of those guys will be in Williams’ game 1 plans, but we could see others when Phoenix needs a spark as the series goes on. Torrey Craig will see significant minutes as a defensive option against Kawhi Leonard who has had an uncharacteristically stellar season shooting the basketball–a lot of possessions in this series might come down to the Clippers forcing him to prove that improvement is legit. Ish Wainwright provides energy and defense at multiple positions, but will likely only see spot minutes. Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale each bring something a little different as the backup center (Biyombo is the better defender, while Landale has a more well-rounded offensive game to punish mismatches on switches), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some centerless looks around Durant at times as well.


  • Paul George: Look, if it feels like I’m mentioning this a lot, it’s because it’s pretty important. I have a really hard time imagining a scenario where the Clippers win 4 out of 7 games against this Suns team without Paul George. But do I think they can win 1 out of 2 or 2 out of 4 without him, and then close things out when he returns? Yeah, I can buy that. We’re going to be anxiously awaiting updates every day until either he’s back in the lineup or the Clippers are eliminated. It should be obvious that the sooner he returns, the more likely the Clippers are to advance–and that every win they can get without him helps extend the series and keep that hope alive.
  • The Grift Zone: One way that the Clippers can win a game without Paul George? His natural replacement (even if he’s coming off the bench instead of starting in Paul’s spot), Norman Powell. Norm has hit the 20-point threshold in 20 of the 60 games he’s played in this season, and the Clippers are going to need his volume and efficiency to make up for the void left by George. But most importantly, they need his most unique skill on this roster: the grift. Norm creates more frivolous fouls against defenders than every other Clipper put together, and leads the Clippers’ rotation in free throws attempted per 36 minutes. The Suns allow the 3rd-most FTA/game in the NBA and themselves attempt the 4th-fewest. The Clippers will almost certainly shoot a lower FG% than the Suns in this series. Bombing threes can help offset that. Games that they win might also need double-digit advantages from the stripe. One more bonus: if the grift can impact Phoenix’s core 4 with foul trouble, it will level the talent disparity between the two teams. Keep an eye on Russell Westbrook’s offensive aggression here too, along with Terance Mann’s mix of downhill drives and ability to solicit illegal contact while defending.
  • The 5th Guy: I said that I’d come back to Josh Okogie, and here we are: the 5th guy on the floor for Phoenix. The other 4 Suns starters make over $130 million–Okogie makes $1.8. Yet he’s earned this spot, first by being a fantastic defender this season, but also by mitigating some of the offensive damage by improving his shot from earlier in his career. Okogie shoots 33.5% from deep on the year, and that mark isn’t better in the corner (31.9%, with nearly half of his attempts coming from there). The Clippers will help liberally off of him in their attempt to contain Phoenix’s other guys. The ball will come out to Okogie. He won’t be shy about shooting when open, and he’s had multiple games this year where the shot has fallen, which will send the Clippers’ defense into a scramble. There have also been some really rough games, in which case we could see Monty Williams forced to pull his best defensive option against Kawhi Leonard. But Okogie’s impact isn’t going to be a one-dimensional, make-or-miss thing. The Clippers absolutely have to balance helping off of him with keeping track of him, because he will cut opportunistically and Chris Paul will find him for free dunks when he does. He’s also a fantastic offensive rebounding wing who will impact the series on the glass if the Clippers can’t locate and get a body on him when shots go up. Williams does have better shooting options for this role, but all of them would result in life being easier for Kawhi Leonard on the other end.
  • The Finale: I don’t really know how to properly contextualize the Clippers’ rather embarrassing barely-win against Phoenix’s mostly-third-string lineup on the last day of the regular season, in what was a must-win game for LA and a throwaway game for the Suns. It feels worth addressing, but it doesn’t feel like the most meaningful data point. It was a day with weird energy, weird scenarios, weird delays, scoreboard-watching, and mixed motivations. I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen, but I also don’t think it tells us anything about this series.
  • Possessions: The Suns were a top-10 offensive rebounding team this season, but a bottom-10 defensive rebounding team. The Clippers were the opposite–top-10 on the defensive glass, bottom-10 on the offensive glass. How meaningful are those season-long stats when we consider that the Suns sample barely includes their new giant, good rebounding wing in Durant and the Clippers’ sample only includes half of a season of Kawhi Leonard and 20 games of one of the best rebounding guards in history in Russell Westbrook? Hard to say. But as I mentioned above, it seems obvious to me that the Suns will have a more efficient halfcourt offense in this series than the Clippers. LAC has to mitigate that damage, but they also have to win on the margins. Scoring in transition, getting more free throws, and making more threes obviously all help. But winning the possession volume battle via rebounding and turnovers will go a long way in leveling the halfcourt battle. The Clippers lost games early in the year where they outshot their opponents but took 20 fewer attempts because of turnovers and offensive rebounds. Winning games in this series is going to require flipping that script and exploiting those margins to take more shots than their opponents.
  • Rotations: Playoff depth is somewhere between overrated and essential. On the one hand, a much higher share of playing time and touches goes to a shorter rotation comprised of teams’ best players, meaning quality role players on the bench have a smaller impact than in the regular season. On the other hand, lots of teams meet their demise because in-series adjustments call for them to need another ball-handler, or perimeter defender, or wing shooter, or rim protector, and they simply don’t have a competent guy in that mold on their bench. Playoff rotations are traditionally 8 or 9 men, but both of these teams have guys in spots 10, 11, and 12 who could be trusted by their coaches for situational use. We could see a bit of role player chess as this series goes on.
  • KD and Russ: I gotta be honest, this isn’t a subplot that I care a ton about, but it’s going to be everywhere in the coverage of this series. Both players were gracious in their comments about each other as former teammates playing against each other for the first time in the playoffs. I think it’s fair to say that despite that positivity, Russell Westbrook will approach this matchup with a bit of an edge. Channeling that appropriately could mean we see the best version of him on defense, which the Clippers really need in this matchup, as well as bringing a tone-setting energy for the rest of the team to match. Getting caught up in it could end up being a distraction if he lets wanting to prove a point hurt his decision-making on offense. Either way, I don’t think this dynamic will be series-defining or as important as the national media will make it out to be.
  • Matchups: Okogie guarding Kawhi is a no-brainer. Expect everything else to get weird. Do the Clippers put Batum on Ayton and Zu on Okogie so that they can comfortably switch screens and let Zu play free safety? How do they balance Kawhi’s defensive duties early in games with his offensive workload? Will he guard Booker or Durant down the stretch of games? Will Durant guard Kawhi down the stretch so that Monty can put another shooter on the floor? Can Chris Paul handle guarding Russell Westbrook’s athleticism and phsyicality at this stage in their careers? (And since that one is probably no, how will Monty hide CP3 on Gordon/Batum, and how aggressively will the Clippers pursue Chris on switches?) The Clippers will need large doses of Norman Powell on offense in this series, but he’s been a severe liability on defense this season, and they’ll need to find opportunities to hide him. Bones Hyland has been fantastic in recent weeks and even competed on defense, but how many units can you realistically get away with Bones and Norm playing together against this Suns attack? Marcus Morris typically does well against slower, stronger players, meaning that if he’s healthy and moving well he could be a switchable smallball 5 option off the bench instead of Plumlee, who has been a disaster on defense lately. Robert Covington can help a lot on the backline but struggles on-ball and could be miscast in a role where he’s asked to handle KD for a shift. Again, I imagine we’ll see a lot of different iterations of role player chess.
  • Game 1: For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that game 1 could decide this series. Obviously, every game is important in a best-of-7. But it will be 10 days since Phoenix’s starters’ last game, which was an exhibition against a Denver team with no starters playing. Their last game against a competitive opponent was April 2nd against Oklahoma City. As mentioned above, they haven’t been tested. They’ll be rusty. And they’ll probably only get better as the series goes on. If the Clippers steal game 1 on the road, they give themselves a desperately-needed margin for error as they await Paul George’s return. A little hope might also go a long way for a team that is overmatched on paper and aware of their underdog status. I think a game 1 win for the Clippers makes this series a coin flip, pending George’s health. A game 1 loss doesn’t end the series, but it makes the path forward very hard.

Clippers vs Suns Series Prediction: Suns in 6

Ultimately, I think there is a talent gulf in this series that would require the Clippers to be at their best and firing on all cylinders to overcome. But in addition to missing their second best player for an unknown portion of the series, this just doesn’t feel like a team that ended the season firing on all cylinders and knowing who they are and how to make each other better. As a group, they really aren’t that much more experienced and developed together than the Durant Suns. I do think that the Clippers will challenge Phoenix. Ty Lue will adjust–maybe even overadjust, at times–to take away what is working and make them win in different ways. I can see a team, even one as talented as Phoenix, stumbling as they figure out how to respond to that in real time considering how few meaningful, competitive reps they have together. And I think that the Clippers have potential avenues to winning this series, involving a mix of opportunism and luck early coupled with a timely return to the court for George. But overall, talent is king in the NBA, and the Suns have the kind of advantage in available star power that is rarely overcome over the course of a 7-game series.


Check out the 213Hoops series prediction staff roundtable!
Hate read Robert Flom’s Q&A with a homertastic Suns blogger friend!
Subscribe to The Lob, The Jam, The Podcast on all platforms for:
1) A special episode of The Lob, The Jam, The Pod with Suns reporter Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports and Clippers reporter Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints.
2) A series preview with 213Hoops’ Shapan Debnath, Robert Flom, and Cole Huff.
3) A game 1 preview with 213Hoops’ Shapan Debnath, Justin Wilson, and Jamal Christopher.
4) Postgame pods for every Clippers playoff game, and special off-day analysis podcasts with guests.
Subscribe to the Clips N’ Dip Podcast on all platforms for pre-series analysis and ongoing updates from Adam Auslund, Charles Mockler, and Will Updyke.
Listen in to my appearance on the PHNX Suns podcast previewing this series (I’m the second guest, Forbes NBA columnist Shane Young is the first half of the episode).
Take a look at Suns blogger Dave King’s series preview, including a Q&A with me on the Clippers’ strengths and weaknesses.

213Hoops is an independently owned and operated L.A. Clippers blog by Clippers fans, for Clippers fans. If you enjoy our content, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. Subscriptions start at $1 a month and support from readers like you goes a long way towards helping us keep 213Hoops sustainable, growing, and thriving.

Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

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