As always, the 213 Hoops staff gathers together to give predictions and abbreviated thoughts on the Clippers’ playoffs series, this time on round 3 against the Mavs.

Erik Olsgaard: Clippers in 6

Assuming that Kawhi plays from game 1, I’m pretty bullish on the Clippers in this matchup. First, I’m not terribly convinced that Dallas is truly in the elite echelon. This impressive 16-2 stretch (excluding the last 2 throwaway losses) to close the season by Dallas has been against mostly below-average competition, with an average opponent win% of only .482. Second, I’m also not convinced their improved defense, with much crisper rotations that mask their defensive shortcomings, is built for LA. It’s easy to look great defensively against mid competition, particularly when it isn’t defending heavy iso offenses like LA’s where good rotations don’t work against repeatedly getting singled-out. Third, I think the postseason minutes redistribution helps LA far more than Dallas. Luka’s already at 37.5 minutes per game, the same as his historical postseason minutes, and Kyrie’s at 35, typically hovering around 36 in the playoffs. On the other hand, the trio of Kawhi/PG/Harden are all at 34.3 (what are the odds??) and all three typically ramp up to at or near 39 minutes. This means LA’s rotations will significantly and fundamentally improve, while Dallas’ might only improve on the margins. The Clippers will still have a Luka problem, so I don’t think a sweep, gentlemen’s or otherwise, is in the cards. But Ty Lue hasn’t lost a Clippers series when healthy, so health permitting, I’m excited to see what this team can do. 

Robert Flom: Clippers in 6

I’m very conflicted on this one. If Kawhi Leonard is healthy, I think the Clippers are the more talented team and should win this one. If he doesn’t play or is not 100% healthy, the Mavs should be favored by a sizable margin. For the purposes of this prediction, I will assume Kawhi can play and will be reasonably close to 100%. While Luka Doncic is brilliant and Kyrie Irving is extraordinary talented and a guy who the Clippers don’t have great options on, I just don’t love the rest of their rotation, even the upgraded one after the deadline. If the Mavs don’t get another hot shooting series from Tim Hardaway Jr., their next best offensive player is… PJ Washington? Despite Luka’s brilliance, I also think the Clippers have “better” options on him than the Mavs do for Kawhi or even PG. The Mavs have been on a roll, but I just like the Clippers’ matchups in this series.

Randi Geffner: Clippers in 6

It’s impossible to make a prediction here without a crystal ball and/or an insider on Kawhi’s medical team. Yes, basketball is a team sport, but the Clippers’ likelihood of winning four games in a really tough series depends in large part on what Kawhi’s status is. Speaking from my head, if he is playing but with limited minutes or doesn’t seem to be a solid version of himself, then I would (sadly) say Dallas in 6. If he isn’t playing at all, then (and it makes me sick to say this), Dallas in 5. If Kawhi plays and he is the best version of himself, then Clippers in 6.  And this is assuming Harden is good and everyone else stays healthy too. Speaking from the heart, it’s Clippers in 6 no matter who is playing. LET’S GET THIS!!!

Lucas Hann: Clippers in 6

The big asterisk here is Kawhi Leonard’s health–I’m choosing to believe that he’s mostly fine and has been getting precautionary rest for minor inflammation heading into the playoffs. If not, this series is a completely different story. The Mavericks are better than they were 3 years ago, but they’re also different, and I think a big part of that is their supporting cast doesn’t have the same volatile shooting upside that they had in the past. The Clippers, for their part, should be better than they were 3 years ago too, although a lot of that will come down to James Harden’s playoff performances (yikes!) and how coverages vs Luka look without Nicolas Batum. I think in this tightly contested series, the teams split each pair of games to open the series, the Clippers take game 5 at home, and then close it out in Dallas in game 6 with Luka wearing down physically from his workload over the course of the series.

Cole Huff: Clippers in 7

Part 3 isn’t going to be any easier than the prior two — not with aging and more-worn-down superstars on LA’s side vs a completely different and better-built roster on Dallas’ end. And if Kawhi Leonard is injured enough to miss any games, don’t count on the Clippers advancing to the conference semifinals. But if Leonard can manage to play even while hobbled, he’s shown that his playoff level is still incredibly high (see Game 2 vs Phoenix last postseason), which, along with the rest of the top 7 rotational players, should give Clippers fans confidence.

I’ll work off of the assumption that Kawhi will be available until I hear otherwise.

Shapan Debnath: Clippers in 7

This is a miserable series to predict. The Kawhi question looms over any prediction with answers yet to be seen until the series is underway, so picking a winner without that knowledge feels really tough. But if Kawhi is reasonably healthy, it’s hard to pick against the Clippers. I think Luka is great and offensively Kyrie is a great partner for him, but their existence on the court opens up the offense on the other end, & LAC have the wings to attack them. Importantly, this series will go very much on how James Harden goes, and those defensive bullseyes should make it much easier for him to open up the offense and get players good looks. I don’t trust DAL’s defense to be as good as their stats against mostly poor competition to end the year. Here’s hoping Ty doesn’t overreact to a few jumpers over Zu.

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