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The Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz both finished the regular season with a record of 51-31 earning the Clippers the 4th seed in the Western Conference and the Jazz the 5th seed. The Clippers were awarded home court advantage in this series because they won the season series against the Jazz, 3-1. In those four match-ups Chris Paul and company looked to be the superior team as they held the Jazz under 75 points in two of the games. All-Star Gordon Hayward was held to an underwhelming shooting performance of 38% in the three games he played against L.A., (missing one game due to injury) well below his season average of 47%.
Keys to the Series
The key to the series for the L.A. Clippers is the point guard to center pick and roll between Chris Paul and Deandre Jordan. Paul is a magician at working the pick and roll. This ability will be essential during the series due to the fact that they are going against the No. 1 ranked defense anchored by Rudy Gobert. Gobert is a defensive player of the year candidate, who is excellent at protecting the rim. The stifle tower is averaging 2.6 blocks per game, while also altering many more shots at the rim each night. The Clippers have to find a way to get him away from the rim. The pick and roll is a great way of doing that. If done correctly, Chris Paul will be able to create match-ups where he is isolated against Gobert and get Utah’s big man outside of his comfort zone. In addition to creating other mismatches and openings for Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick.
The key to the series for the Utah Jazz is to get Gordon Hayward going. He struggled against the Clippers in the regular season leading to Utah having problems scoring during those games. Utah is known for their defense but the Clippers defense is nothing to sneeze at. L.A. ranked 12th in the league in points allowed per game during the season. The Jazz ranked 28th in points scored per game and this can lead to long periods of time where they are not able to put the ball in the hoop. Even with their superior defense, the Jazz need to avoid scoring droughts because the Clippers can score with the best of them, ranking 6th in total offense this season. Hayward is the key to getting their offense going. If he starts making shots and getting to the rim, this will open up the entire offense, creating open shots for Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood, among others.
The X-Factor for the Clippers is Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers in particular. They combined to average 24.3 points per game during the regular season. This production off the bench is immensely important for Los Angeles. Rivers may miss the first two games of the series and someone else off of the bench needs to step up and fill that void. The starting five for the Clippers is one of the best in the league and has been for a while. The problem has always been consistency from the bench and that consistency could be the difference in this series.
The X-Factor for the Jazz is George Hill. Hill has played very well for the Jazz this season adding a veteran presence, playing strong defense, and knocking down open shots. The Jazz will need their point guard to bring all of these attributes to the table during the series. Hill will have the daunting task of trying to guard Paul. If Hill can make it difficult for Paul to work his magic on offense, then that can be exactly what Utah needs to move on to the next round. The veteran point guard averaged 17 points per game during the regular season, while shooting 47% from the floor, and 40% from 3-point range. If Hill plays at his best on offense and defense, Utah has a much better shot at winning.
Prediction: This will be a very competitive series with exciting, roller coaster type games. The Clippers will come out on top after a hard fought series as their offensive fire power will be too much for the Jazz to keep pace with. The Clippers will win the series 4-2.