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NBA Notebook: Are the Clippers still contenders without Kawhi?

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

June 17th, 2021

The 2021 NBA Playoffs promised plenty of intrigue at the outset, and they haven't disappointed. Shocking underdog victories, big road wins, and unforgettable performances have made every game must-see TV.

Let’s take a look at the top stories from around the league as we enjoy another fantastic NBA postseason.

Chris Paul's uncertain status has cast a cloud over the Suns

The Phoenix Suns secured the top seed and have been masterful in the postseason thus far. After dominating the Los Angeles Lakers to close out their opening round series, the Suns did the near unthinkable and swept the Denver Nuggets.

Now, in a shocking turn of events, the Suns find themselves possibly missing their star point guard and veteran leader, Chris Paul, for a significant amount of time due to league COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Paul is at risk of missing significant time in the Western Conference Finals, which are slated to start next week.

With Paul, the Suns have been nearly unstoppable on offense. In their closeout game against the Nuggets, Paul made nine consecutive shots in the second half. With Paul’s status still in question, so too are the Suns’ championship chances.

Are the Clippers still contenders without Kawhi?

Another key player who will unfortunately be on the sidelines while his team plays is Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is out with a knee injury during the Clippers’ second round series with the Utah Jazz.

Leonard has been the best player on the court in this series, but his knee injury changes the dynamics of this Clippers' roster. Significantly more pressure will be applied to fellow All-Star Paul George, who came through big-time in Game 5 with a 37-point, 16-rebound performance.

If Leonard is unable to return in this series, the Clippers are almost certainly finished. Leonard has averaged 27.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game so far, and a prolonged absence would be extremely hard to overcome against a hungry Jazz team.

NBA Championship 2020/2021

Mon, August 30 2021, 11:57 PM

Brooklyn Nets

+150

Phoenix Suns

+240

Utah Jazz

+600

Milwaukee Bucks

+700

Los Angeles Clippers

+1000

Philadelphia 76ers

+1200

Atlanta Hawks

+2000

The 76ers should be feeling defensive

Coming into this postseason, the Philadelphia 76ers were one of the best defensive teams in the league. In their series with the Atlanta Hawks, however, head coach Doc Rivers has been more interested in putting offensive-focused lineups on the court, and the strategy has his squad down 2-3.

In a shocking turn of events on Wednesday night, the Sixers blew a 26-point home lead against the Hawks. They were given a 99.7% win probability late in the third quarter by ESPN, but failed to hold on, and looked lost in the final half of the fourth quarter. They surrendered 40 points in the fourth quarter in defeat.

The Hawks are young and confident. Trae Young has all the bravado of a western gunslinger with no fear of failure, and veterans Lou Williams and Danilo Ganillari are adding scoring punch off the bench. The Hawks are on the verge of a Conference Finals berth and ought to be the story, but it’s hard not to wonder how the 76ers ever let them have this chance. Game 6 (and possibly Game 7) will be must-see.

Kevin Durant was unstoppable in Game 5

Recovered from the Achilles injury that saw the end of his Golden State Warriors career, Kevin Durant is leading the Brooklyn Nets in a way that really can’t be overstated. In a critical Game 5 victory, Durant played all 48 minutes, scoring 49 points, grabbing 17 rebounds, and dishing 10 assists. For such a thin frame, the 17 rebounds might be his most impressive number on the stat line. It was one shy of his career-high, and it came in a close game that saw them come from behind to win the fourth quarter.

The Nets’ "Big 3" has not panned out quite like many imagined. James Harden looked awful in Game 5 trying to gut through his hamstring injury, and Kyrie Irving is still on the shelf with a bum ankle. None of that may matter, however, if Durant insists on taking over games like he did in Game 5.

Nikola Jokic may have won the MVP trophy this season, but if KD keeps going like this he'll end up with his third NBA Finals MVP award.

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