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Ovie Soko says LA Clippers will meet high expectations in playoffs

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Ovie Soko, Sky Sports NBA analyst

Thursday 21 May 2020 12:04, UK

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in action for the Clippers
Image: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in action for the Clippers

The LA Clippers have been dogged by health issues throughout the 2019-20 season, but Ovie Soko backs them to meet their high expectations - should the NBA resume play - in the playoffs.

Ovie Soko during his BBL debut for the London Lions
Image: Ovie Soko during his BBL debut for the London Lions
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LA Clippers
Season record: 44-20
2nd place in Western Conference

Everyone had a lot of high expectations for the Clippers this season and I don't think they have let anyone down. They have had a solid campaign and they are definitely one of the favourites to come out of the West. But we wanted more consistency from them in terms of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George playing.

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The two Clippers superstars have played just 18 games together this season. We have heard so much about Leonard's load management and it seems the Clippers have taken the same stance with George. That's the one let-down, if you want to call it that.

Despite that, Leonard has been the Clippers' player of the season so far. It just nags at me that the health issues and load management mean we don't get to see him play every game. I think fans start to get frustrated at a certain point.

Kawhi Leonard drives to the basket during the game against the Miami Heat 5:30
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Kawhi is a great player, certainly of one the best in the NBA at the moment, but what makes players truly great is the consistency, the ability to do it night-in and night-out. Every road trip, there are people who will travel just to see him play. From a fan's perspective, you can see how that can leave some people feeling a little bit disappointed.

Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell has improved year-by-year since coming into the NBA in 2016. This season he has continued that trend. He hasn't made quite as big a jump as, say, Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo but he has steadily improved. He has added little pieces to his game.

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Harrell now has more ways to score, it's not just off pick-and-rolls and alley-oops. Now you are seeing him start to take big men off the dribble where he has an advantage at the 'five' position because he can use his quickness and a little bit of ball-handling too.

I also love what Lou Williams brings to the team. The difference this year is that we have seen him bring it on the defensive end, which is all you can ask for when you're talking about an out-and-out scorer.

Check out Paul George's best plays from the 2019-20 season so far. 3:50
Check out Paul George's best plays from the 2019-20 season so far

During the season, the biggest improvement the Clippers made as a team was on the defensive side of the ball. They came into the 2019-20 season with a new roster having made a lot of big changes. But the most impressive thing I saw from the Clippers was their effectiveness on defense.

Yes, they had a couple of defensive shockers in January against the Grizzlies and the Knicks and they don't have a 7ft rim protector but they have so many guys able to guard different positions. They are very mobile defensively and that is something that will benefit them in the playoffs if the season resumes.

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Because of the injury and health issues, the Clippers have been playing catch-up this season but I think this extended regular-season hiatus works into their favour. It could give them the time they need to get the roster fully healthy and not sit guys out every other game. But it also puts pressure on those guys to actually play. If you come back now and players are still taking certain games off, there are really no excuses at this point.

They also made significant changes at the February trade deadline bringing in Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson and we haven't had enough time to see if those changes were the right moves.

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Ultimately, playoff time will tell us if they were the right changes to make. Some people will say they already had a good-enough squad to win but they have added a bit of toughness which I like. But I wouldn't have said they weren't a tough team before that.

Improvement-wise, Patrick Beverley will have to consistently be a solid point guard, as well as being a pest on defense. I'm keen to see how that will play out because at playoff time the point guard position is huge. Every team that has won a championship has had a very good point guard or at least one who can control the pace of the game. Will Beverley be able to do that come playoff time?

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We know Beverley's defense will make things uncomfortable for opponents but playoff games mean possession basketball. As well as getting crucial stops, he also needs to be able to slow the game down at times and make the right plays and calls.

How good would a fully healthy Clippers squad be in the playoffs? I've said all season I think the Lakers will take it all the way but I know the Clippers would give them problems.

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If that match-up does happen in the playoffs, the Clippers are very capable of beating the Lakers. I wouldn't bet on them to do it but they are a more than capable team.

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