The Los Angeles Lakers may be justifiable NBA title favorites after winning it all last season, but don’t sleep on their Staples Center bunkmates. The LA Clippers are off to a solid 8-4 start of their own, but the Clips aren’t nearly as popular a championship bet as they were at this time a year ago. The Clippers’ disappointing performance in the NBA bubble is still fresh in the minds of many, and with good reason.
However, there is more reason to believe in LAC’s chances of making a real playoff run this time around. The team is more sturdy defensively after replacing Montrezl Harrell with Serge Ibaka in the middle, while the additions of Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard give the Clips more shooting and playmaking than they had a season ago. Paul George is also fully healthy now that he’s over a year removed from his shoulder surgeries that clearly impacted his play in his first season in Los Angeles.
The Clips will take their show on the road on Friday night to the California capital to play the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are off to a so-so 5-7 start following a 132-126 loss to Portland in their last game. Sacramento enters this game having lost three of their last four overall following a promising 3-1 start to the campaign. The Clippers are favored by seven points on the road in this one.
PG-13 for MVP?
Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are garnering plenty of MVP buzz early in the year, but don’t sleep on Paul George. As mentioned, the former All-Star has been in incredible form early in the new campaign. George is averaging 25.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in about 35 minutes per game thus far for the Clips. He has connected on an absurd 51.6 percent of his three-pointers on 8.3 attempts per game. That’s unsustainable, but we know he’s one of the game’s premier shooters when healthy.
He wasn’t playing at 100 percent last season, which contributed to his less-than-stellar performance. George averaged just over 21 points per game in his first year with the team after finishing second in the league in scoring in his previous season with the Thunder. George was a legitimate MVP candidate two years ago in OKC before his shoulder issues derailed his form late in the year.
Now, he appears to be back to full strength, which makes the Clippers incredibly dangerous. Kawhi Leonard has put up decent numbers of his own (24.8 points, 6.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds) despite having to deal with a mouth laceration early on. Leonard has supplied his usual stellar wing defense, but the Clips surprisingly rank just 26th in defensive efficiency so far this season.
It has also been interesting to see the new rotations employed by first-year head coach Ty Lue. The Clips have been reliant on Lou Williams to shoulder a heavy offensive load with the second unit in recent years, but the team is hardly leaning on Williams at all these days. The former Sixth Man of the Year is averaging just over nine points per game this season in under 20 minutes per game. Lou played a season-low nine minutes last time out against the Pelicans.
Williams has been a net-negative on the defensive side of the floor for his entire career, so the fact that the Clippers appear to be phasing him out is likely a good thing for their long-term championship aspirations. George and Leonard handle the lion’s share of the scoring for this team, anyway, while Kennard gives the second unit comparable playmaking without being such a defensive sieve.
Haliburton for ROY?
While Paul George may be building an MVP case, Tyrese Haliburton is mounting his own campaign for Rookie of the Year in Sacramento. Through the first month of the season, Haliburton and LaMelo Ball have been the most impressive first-year players by far. Many thought the Kings were getting a steal when the Iowa State product fell into their laps with the No. 12 overall pick, and he’s wasted no time in proving those people right.
Through his first 10 NBA games, Haliburton has averaged 12.6 points, 5.7 assists, and nearly three rebounds in about 29 minutes per game. The 6’5″ guard has played his way into a major role in Luke Walton’s rotation already, and he looks to be a perfect complementary piece next to De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt. Haliburton’s length has been very useful to the Kings defensively, and he’s also hit over 52 percent of his three-pointers on nearly five attempts per game.
Speaking of Fox, he has looked every bit like the franchise cornerstone that the Kings paid him to be this offseason. Fox was electrifying in Sacramento’s win over the Pacers earlier this week, finishing with 21 points, nine assists, and five rebounds in 38 minutes of action. He wound up sealing the win with a ferocious dunk after blowing by Domantas Sabonis at the top of the arc in the game’s waning seconds:
The Kings are a playoff long shot at this point, but there are some reasons for optimism with this team. The Fox-Haliburton backcourt is an obvious building block. Richaun Holmes has given Sacramento quality production up front, while Harrison Barnes has gotten off to a very impressive start. The Kings are certainly up against it playing in a loaded division that features both LA teams and an up-and-coming Suns squad, but Walton has this team playing competitive basketball on a nightly basis.
What’s the Best Bet?
The public is backing the Clippers in this one, and with good reason. 57 percent of the bets have come in on the Clippers to cover the seven-point spread on the road, while a whopping 93 percent of the money is also on LA to cover.
The Kings some shown some good fight early in the year, but they won’t be able to win consistently unless they improve their performance on the defensive side of the floor. The Kings have played with more pace this season, but keeping their opponents off the scoreboard has been a tall order. Sacramento is allowing 116.3 points per 100 possessions so far this season, which ranks dead-last in the entire league.
The Clippers are well-equipped to take advantage of those defensive shortcomings. Thanks to the aforementioned early-season dominance of George and Leonard, LAC ranks second in offensive efficiency. The Clips are scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions. The only team that has been better offensively early in the new campaign is Milwaukee.
I don’t think this game necessarily gets out of hand, but I do like the Clippers’ chances of covering. I think the Clips’ defense is better than their early-season numbers indicate, but I can’t say the same of Sacramento’s defense. Bet on the Clippers to cover in this one.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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