A week into the seeding games down in Disney, the quality of play has been very high. Almost all of the 22 teams are competitive on a nightly basis and have brought the drama to most contests. Such high-caliber hoops only shows up when the stakes are high and there's something worth playing for. The NBA gets credit for properly incentivizing all teams in the bubble, but the bloodbath of the standings before the shutdown has led to a frenetic pace in Orlando.
No place has been more of a bloodbath than the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers clinched the top seed, but teams 2 through 7 are all jockeying for position with each other. Meanwhile, the race for 8 is wide open and could provide drama until the very last seeding games have been played.
Over the next week, we'll dive one by one into the main contenders to see which teams might give them the most difficult matchups in the postseason. Whether due to matchups, style of play, star power or teams trending upward, we'll dive into a list of who each team would like to avoid most.
As of this writing, the LA Clippers are 1.5 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets for the 2-seed, with only three to play. As the heavy favorites for that spot, the possibility of seeing the Luka Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks in the first round is the most likely outcome. But what about if Denver catches them? Of all the teams who are greater threats and could fall to the six seed, is their one to challenge the Clippers most?
Who They're Rooting Against: Oklahoma City Thunder
Imagine Chris Paul, the most cerebral point guard and vicious on-court trash talker of our time, knowing your playbook and tendencies from experience. Now imagine that over a best-of-seven series against many of his former teammates or coaches who traded him away and jettisoned him out of Los Angeles not too long ago.
When things are personal for CP3, he's at his best.
Beyond his impact, which would be fascinating with Patrick Beverley's tenacious defense looming, the Thunder have built an identity on tough defense, with several lockdown defenders on the wings. Whether its Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Luguentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson or Hamadou Diallo, Darius Bazley or the returning Andre Roberson, there are plenty of long, cagey defenders who can take their shots at Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Hell, even the competitive Chris Paul will get his moments.
Such a team is built to match up with the Clippers. Their wing and perimeter defense is top-notch against a team whose bigs are all role-playing PNR finishers (hello, Mr. Zubac). Steven Adams patrols the paint and has added enough shooting to become someone the Clippers can't ignore. The scoring punch of Dennis Schroder off the bench helps combat what arrives with Lou Williams.
Perhaps the biggest X-Factor will be Montrezl Harrell and whether Doc Rivers can get him up to speed quickly enough to make his usual impact. He's a tough matchup for OKC backup centers Mike Muscala and Nerlens Noel, but would be their ace in the hole with the first unit to combat Adams. We're yet to see him in the bubble as he attends to family issues; if he arrives and is highly impactful, it could swing the series.
Let's not forget about the guy who is one of the most vastly underrated scorers in this series either: Danilo Gallinari. He'll need the attention of Kawhi Leonard in this series, while PG-13 checks SGA. If the Clippers don't take Gallo seriously enough, he has the scoring chops to swing this series in their favor.
Let's be honest, the Clippers are in good position to avoid this series and end up with the Dallas Mavericks. But few teams have impressed me more inside the bubble than Oklahoma City, a group of competitive overachievers who don't back down from anyone. That's exactly the type of matchup the Clippers would want to avoid in the first round.
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Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).