The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round was a fitting outcome given the rest of the Western Conference postseason. The Lakers have won 17 championships. The Clippers, Jazz, Suns and Nuggets have never won one. For the first time since the emergence of the Golden State Warriors almost a decade ago, the Western Conference appears to be wide open.
Of course, both of these teams have something to say about that. The Jazz had the NBA's best record this season at 52-20 and spent most of the regular season crushing everybody in their path. The Clippers have the conference's most accomplished remaining superstar in Kawhi Leonard and were favored to win it all last season before the Orlando bubble. Neither of these teams has ever won a championship, but rarely has either had a better chance at doing so. They'll have to make it through this second-round bloodbath first, though, and here's everything you need to know before Game 1.
(1) Utah Jazz vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers
- Date: Tuesday, June 8 | Time: 10:00 p.m. ET
- Location: Vivint Arena -- Salt Lake City, Utah
- TV: TNT | Live stream: TNT
- Odds: UTA: -155 | LAC +145 | O/U: 220.5 (William Hill Sportsbook)
Jazz: How healthy is Mike Conley? Utah looked just fine without him in the regular season, but the playoffs are another animal. That will ring especially true in this series, where the Clippers will be able to throw several former All-Defense selections at Donovan Mitchell. If Kawhi Leonard or Paul George can slow down Mitchell, the Jazz are going to rely heavily on Conley and Joe Ingles for supplementary ball-handling.
Hamstrings can be finicky. Even if Conley plays in Game 1, we don't know how he'll look or how he'll hold up throughout the series. Expect the Clippers to test him early and often whenever he does return to the floor.
Clippers: The Clippers went small against the Mavericks and it worked wonderfully. Will they be able to do the same against Utah? They'll certainly try. One of the keys to beating Utah's elite defense is pulling Rudy Gobert away from the basket. Playing Nic Batum at center does just that, and while Gobert should give the Clippers fits on the offensive glass, he's not the sort of big man that's going to kill mismatches in the post. Ironically, he's slightly easier to deal with in that regard than the enormous but otherwise limited Boban Marjanovic was.
The Jazz certainly aren't going to go away from Gobert, but don't be surprised if we see them try to play smaller when he goes to the bench, depending on what sore of role the Clippers envision for Ivica Zubac. This game of lineup cat-and-mouse is going to determine the winner here. If the Clippers can stay small effectively, they have a real chance in this series. Things get much harder if Gobert can hide on Zubac defensively.
If Conley were healthy, Utah's home dominance would make the Jazz the wise pick. Until we know more about his status, though, the Clippers shouldn't be getting this many points. They could easily win this thing outright, so take the points and hope for a close game. Pick: Clippers +4