Clippers vs. Jazz: What to expect when their second-round series starts
Nearly two hours after playing 43 minutes during the Clippers’ 126-111 victory over Dallas to advance to the second round of the playoffs, Paul George emerged for his postgame videoconference after receiving treatment. Every moment of recovery since the final horn had become precious, not that the Clippers will complain — their season is still alive.
Their reward for a first-round victory over the Mavericks is a quick turnaround against the top-seeded and well-rested Utah Jazz, who will have gone six days between games after beating Memphis in five.
Tipoff for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at 7 p.m. PDT in Salt Lake City.
“At this point everyone has something going on” physically, George said Sunday. “I just try to get to a mindset to go out and perform and just help my team keep the series and the season alive.
“At this point, it’s just all-in. It’s just all-in, committed to doing whatever it takes, and you know, help try to keep us going.”
The Clippers’ last matchup against Utah, a 116-112 win on Feb. 19, was their lone victory in three games during the season and was notable because it was the first time in four weeks the Clippers’ usual, but battered starting lineup played together. The matchup was seen as a preview of how the full-strength rosters would fare.
It was only Utah’s second loss in 22 games and marked a key moment in the Clippers’ season when reserve guard Terance Mann overtook Luke Kennard in the rotation. Mann played a key role in the first round against Dallas by averaging nearly 17 minutes over the last six games and scored 13 points in Game 7. Kennard added 11 in the finale, his role increasing in the last two games as the Clippers sought to add scoring and spacing.
Both could play valuable roles against the Jazz too, because given Utah’s deep guard rotation and highly accurate shooting, its strengths overlap with many of the Clippers’.
Los Angeles led the league in three-point shooting (41.1%) while Utah ranked fourth (38.9%). Since the postseason began, Utah stayed hot with 40.6% shooting from deep, while it took the Clippers until the end to shoot to their potential, making a Game 7-record 20 three-pointers. For the series they made 37.3%, seventh best among playoff teams.
Utah guard Mike Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists against the Grizzlies, but his availability remains unknown after he suffered a mild hamstring strain in the last game. Utah announced that his health will be re-evaluated before Game 1. After a right ankle sprain led Donovan Mitchell to miss his 17th consecutive game in the opener against Memphis, the All-Star guard averaged 28.5 points, 5.8 assists and 2.8 turnovers over his last four games while shooting 40% on three-pointers.
After defeating Dallas in Game 7, the Clippers are trying to erase their curse by getting past top-seeded Utah for their first conference finals.
The Jazz also can turn to Jordan Clarkson, recently chosen the NBA’s top reserve after a season in which he averaged 18.4 points. The 6-foot-4 Clarkson averaged 18.6 points off the bench against Memphis, though his three-point accuracy dipped to 23% on eight attempts per game.
To beat Dallas, one of Clippers coach Tyronn Lue’s key adjustments was shifting to a starting lineup with no player taller than 6-8, with forward Nicolas Batum replacing traditional center Ivica Zubac in order to present a smaller, switching defense against Luka Doncic. Against the Jazz, who start 7-1 center Rudy Gobert, a two-time defensive player of the year, the Clippers’ big men could resume larger roles.
The Jazz also played 6-9 center Derrick Favors off the bench 15 minutes per game in the first round, the type of matchup that could lead to a potential role for a backup, traditional center off the bench. Serge Ibaka (back spasms) missed the last five games against the Mavericks. DeMarcus Cousins, whom Lue said was “itching to play” against Dallas, could be another option should Ibaka be unavailable.
The environment in Vivint Arena will be much different than the Clippers’ only previous visit this season on Jan. 1, when 1,932 fans watched Utah’s 106-100 win. More than 14,000 fans watched Utah’s first-round closeout victory, and that environment drew scrutiny earlier in the series after the team announced it indefinitely banned three spectators who were ejected from Game 2 after directing vulgar taunts toward the parents of Memphis guard Ja Morant.
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