Hungry Clippers clipping their rivals' heels

Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (extreme right) comes up against LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard at the AdventHealth Arena on Wednesday. The Clippers secured the second seed in the Western Conference with their 124-111 win over the Nuggets.
Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (extreme right) comes up against LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard at the AdventHealth Arena on Wednesday. The Clippers secured the second seed in the Western Conference with their 124-111 win over the Nuggets.PHOTO: REUTERS

ORLANDO (Florida) • At times this regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers have looked like the championship contenders many had tipped them to be when Kawhi Leonard joined last summer.

At other times, they have looked very much like a work in progress, with Leonard's "load management" programme - designed to maintain his fitness - and periods of absence for Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell not helping the team's chemistry.

But after sealing the second seed in the Western Conference with a 124-111 National Basketball Association (NBA) victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers feels that the post-season is when his players will step up.

He has every reason to believe that. Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first championship title last year, earning his second Finals Most Valuable Player award and becoming just the third player to do so with two different teams.

George, the Clippers' other star recruit last year, has never won the sport's biggest prize.

But in his nine years as a professional, he has helped his two previous teams, the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, reach the play-offs eight times, with the sole exception being in 2015, when he suffered a broken leg.

On the forward pair, who combined for 53 points against Denver, Rivers said: "(Both are) in great shape, which is just where we want them to be. We want to win it all."

Beverley is feeling equally confident, hailing Leonard as "the best player in the NBA".

They will, however, need to draw on his and George's experience if they are to get through the ultra competitive West.

Not only have the Clippers never gone past the semi-finals, but their first-round opponents next week, seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks, are hungry and into the post-season for the first time since 2016.

A match-up between Los Angeles' front-court pair, and reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis is set to be particularly explosive, so George wants his teammates to be laser-focused.

He said: "We know what's at stake and we know what we're here for. This group is confident."

Leonard added: "(Now we) get in better habits with less mistakes going forward."

Denver, in third, will take on sixth seed Utah Jazz in the first round of the play-off "bubble".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2020, with the headline 'Hungry Clippers clipping their rivals' heels'. Print Edition | Subscribe