By now you all probably know how this works. Seven Salt City Hoops contributors weigh in on the big questions around the upcoming series between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. It’s also important to note that none of the writers were aware of anybody else’s answers. Without further ado.
Aaron Hefner: Opposing fans may hate his whining and on-court shenanigans, but Chris Paul can ball. I think given his poise and experience, he is going to have a dominant series. While George Hill is a solid defender, he is still recovering from injury and getting in to shape. Whenever he sits, CP3 will have free reign to inflict pain on Utah.
Clint Johnson: Chris Paul. The best players shine brightest in the playoffs and Paul is the best player in the series. Rudy Gobert versus DeAndre Jordan will be too intense for either to dominate. Unfortunately, both Gordon Hayward and Hill struggle when checked by Luc Mbah a Moute and Paul, respectively, as demonstrated by their true shooting percentages against the Clippers this season (.506 and .490).
Spencer Wixom: Chris Paul. I’d like to say Hayward, but he has struggled scoring against Mbah a Moute in the past. Gobert is another good pick but has a tough matchup with Jordan. In the end Paul has the most experience and will be looking to prove that he has what it takes to carry his team to the next round. If Hill is healthy and can give him a fight on the defensive end, the Jazz will have a chance.
Jarom Moore: Chris Paul. Unless he is injured it’s going to be Paul. I hate it too. I had to go brush my teeth after saying it (okay I washed my hands after typing). As good as I think Rudy will be, Paul is simply that good right now. I think it’ll be Paul, Rudy, Gordon and Blake Griffin. It’s not new or special, but they are the stars of this series.
Thatcher Olson: As much as I’d love to say Gobert or Hayward, I think that Paul is and will be the best player in this series. He has the most experience of the top players in the series, and he excels on both ends of the floor. Hill is a good point guard, but he will certainly have his hands full.
Laura Thompson: Chris Paul. I’d love to say it’s one of our guys, but Hayward doesn’t play well against the Clippers, and both Paul and Griffin have been great lately, peaking at just the right time.
Jimbo Rudding: Probably Chris Paul, but I want it to be Gordon because for some reason he isn’t jittery and keeps his cool throughout the series. That would be totally unexpected and totally welcomed.
Aaron: Due to intentional defensive scheming by Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Hayward has struggled against the Clippers. However, I think Quin Snyder and Gordon adjust and G-Time climbs out of that matchup slump with a respectable series. In other words, I think we will be surprised by how normal Hayward performs given his historical averages against the Paperclips.
Clint: Joe Ingles. This is mostly because so few people outside Utah know just how good a player Ingles has become, despite his elite three point shooting this year. Ingles is a smart player with the benefit of ample experience in international play. Nerves won’t rattle him, and he’ll get opportunities with the Clipper’s game plan focusing on Hayward, Rodney Hood, and Hill.
Spencer: Rudy Gobert. If any player on the Jazz roster has the championship mentality it is Gobert. Most non-Jazz fans will be expecting him to simply come in and play great defense, but I could see Gobert also being the second leading scorer for the Jazz averaging around 18 points per game. This is a nice opportunity for the world to get to know the side of Gobert that Jazz fans know and break inaccurate stigmas like the assumption that he has bad hands.
Jarom: Rodney Hood. In a series of bigger names, I think Hood will have a great series. Health willing he will do a good job on JJ Redick on one end and step up on the other. Don’t be surprised if Hood has a breakout playoff series.
Thatcher: While the Clippers have a lot of top-level star talent, the Jazz bench is much deeper. Look for Hood to have a big series. The nature of the playoffs gives more time off between games and if he can stay healthy, Hood could have a big impact on the outcome of the series. With defenders having to focus more on Hayward, Hill, Gobert, and even Joe Johnson, Hood should have some good looks and opportunities to swing the series.
Laura: Rudy Gobert. I think he’ll start off a bit slowly in the series, but will adapt quickly and get better as the series goes on.
Jimbo: I really hope this is Derrick Favors. He’s had such a hard year and it would be so great to see him finish it out with stellar play.
Aaron: Without a doubt the Clippers. You could argue that with Hill and Hayward on the cusp of free agency that Utah has an equal stake, but I don’t buy it. The Clippers have repeatedly flopped in the playoffs despite end of roster overhaul after overhaul. If they lose in the 1st round again, I would bet something significant changes this summer.
Clint: The Clippers. While there would certainly be disquiet amongst some Jazz fans about a first round exit, especially after a short series, Utah is still a young team on an upward trajectory. Given the ages of Jamal Crawford, Redick, and particularly Paul, a first round exit for the Clippers may mean a complete overhaul of the roster.
Spencer: The Clippers. They have been to the playoffs multiple times and deemed western conference contenders, only to flame out before they reach the Western Conference Finals. Griffin and Paul both have player options that they will decline and Redick is a free agent. If this team doesn’t get out of the first round they will likely head their separate ways. On the contrary with the Jazz, this is their first playoff appearance since 2012. They know they are the underdog and are going in this with motivation to cause an upset.
Jarom: Clippers. There is only pressure on the Clippers. Yes, if it looks super bad Gordon might leave, but I doubt any result would change his mind. On the other hand, if the Clippers lose it has to be very close to the end. They might get another shot, but if not now, when for the Clips?
Thatcher: The Clippers clearly have more at stake. While the pressure is on the Jazz to perform well, primarily for the benefit of resigning Hill and Hayward, this is a do-or-die moment for the Clippers. After multiple years of first or second round exits, the Clippers know they have to at least make it to the second round against the Warriors. If not, free agents Paul, Reddick, and Griffin will have some serious decisions to make.
Laura: Clippers, though I think it’s close. Both teams could face big dilemmas in the offseason, but the Clippers have the more daunting task: keep this core together, or be a continual second-round playoff team with an aging (though incredible) point guard? The Jazz want to show Hayward they’re capable of winning and progressing in the playoffs so they can convince him to stay in Utah for the next 4-5 years.
Jimbo: The Jazz. Hayward and Hill could factor this series outcome into their free agency decisions.
Aaron: We know for sure that Joe is going to jingle some opponent’s chains, but will there be fists? I doubt it.
Spencer: I don’t think there will be a fight, but there will absolutely be a kerfuffle. I’d say there is a 99% chance Joe Ingles causes it.
Jarom: Of course there will be a fight. I’m going Ingles vs. Crawford, then Alec Burks comes in and does a heel turn by sticking with Crawford his childhood idol and hitting Ingles in the back with a chair.
Thatcher: There probably won’t be an actual “fight”, but there’s no doubt tensions will run high. This will be a physical series with some likely hard fouls. Paul and Griffin aren’t afraid to get physical, and Gobert will be physical right back. However, ingles has recently taken it upon himself to stand up for his teammates, so don’t be surprised if he’s in the middle of a skirmish or two.
Laura: Of course! The real question is how many? Paul vs. Gobert. Griffin vs. Gobert. Paul vs. Jingles. Paul vs. Shelvin Mack. Chris Paul vs. anyone and everyone.
Jimbo: Yes. Ingles and Griffin.
Aaron: Chris Paul….I don’t think I have to explain myself here.
Spencer: Doc Rivers. The Clippers have a culture of whining, complaining, and yelling and it all starts with their head coach.
Jarom: I’m going Doc Rivers. I think there will be a call in the first game or two that sets him off like crazy.
Thatcher: The most logical choice by the numbers would be Jordan, as he has the 4th most in the NBA this season with 14. However I’m going with Paul. The Jazz defense should frustrate him, and the perceived lack of fouls being called could lead to a quick technical.
Laura: Rudy Gobert. Though it should be Paul. CP3 usually makes the first swipe or dirty play, and the retaliating player usually gets the whistle.
Jimbo: Chris Paul.
Aaron: Utah’s perimeter shooting. I think Utah will play solid defense and execute adequately on the offensive end, but will they make their three point shots? Hood is incredibly streaky and Hill has had his ups and downs as well. When Hood, Hill, and the Joes are hitting from outside, they are a very good team.
Clint: Health or the lack of it. It’s infuriating but only appropriate given how the past season (and more) have gone for the Jazz, but Utah’s greatest advantage over the Clippers – depth – may be notably diminished. With fewer high performing contributors than at their best (which has, sadly, never really been seen this year), Utah is at a disadvantage.
Spencer: Defense on the Clippers guards. While many are concerned about how the Jazz will stop Griffin, I’m more concerned about the perimeter defense. Griffin has not been himself as of late and I still think the Jazz have the tools to guard him. However, Clippers perimeter players seem to always go off against the Jazz, whether it be Paul, Redick, Crawford, Austin Rivers or Raymond Felton. Crawford averaged 3.2 points more than his average versus the Jazz and Rivers averages 3.0 more points. Having a healthy Jazz roster will help as the Jazz bench guards won’t be as depleted, but this will still be something to watch.
Jarom: Fouls. No, not Jazz got screwed since they lost, but can they stay out of foul trouble? I think if the end count of FTA is close the Jazz have a shot. If guards get dumb fouls on Paul, Rudy gets into foul trouble or just the count gets out of hand the Clippers could cruise through this series.
Thatcher: Experience. The Clippers are an experienced playoff team. This Jazz squad has some individual experienced players, but this squad has never been in a series together. Will the Jazz be able to overcome that? Will Gobert and Hayward shine on the big stage? Or on the other hand, will the Clippers be haunted by their failure of past playoff series, and turn experience into a burden and more pressure? It will be fascinating to watch both teams.
Laura: Health. If the Jazz can get–and remain–healthy, they’ll have a much better shot of stealing a game or two at the beginning of the series to gain some momentum. But with so many players at less than 100% and dealing with nagging injuries, it’ll be hard to put up a good fight against a very experienced, very talented Clippers team.
Jimmy: Hayward’s shooting and also Jazz 3-point shooting in general.
Aaron: Well, after settling down from running around the house stripping and screaming simultaneously, I will probably get dressed and take the family out to a nice meal.
Clint: I’ll determine how to croon over and nuzzle that chick after it hatches!
Spencer: Rent the other side of the Stayward billboard and put a crying Jordan/Griffin meme on it? In all honesty I would probably not shut up about the Jazz until the next season starts if they pull an upset.
Jarom: I will give a personal press conference where I talk about the next series. No time to celebrate, we’re looking at winning the next game. I mean, enjoy the win, but got to take it one game at a time. It is what it is.
Thatcher: Well, I may not have a voice for a few days after screaming like crazy…However, I think this will be a good sign for retaining Hayward and Hill. The thing I will be looking forward to the most is seeing the Jazz in the second round. I don’t think they can beat the Warriors, but it will be interesting to see how they match up and where they need to improve. A first round win will be huge for setting up an even bigger season next year.
Laura: Fly to Utah to go to a game in Round 2.
Jimbo: Eat so much at Chuck-A-Rama that the cooks in the back come out to watch and also some of the servers gag.
Aaron: Clippers in 6. I am afraid the experience and on-court chemistry of Los Angeles (combined with home court advantage) will prove too much for Utah to overcome. However, it will be a competitive and entertaining series with moments of tumult, heartbreak, joy, and fury for Jazz fans.
Clint: Clippers in 6. With both teams at full strength, I suspect Utah is the better team, particularly in a long series where depth can be leveraged. But that depth isn’t truly there. Hill and Favors, in particular, would need to be difference makers, and I just don’t think their bodies will let them be.
Spencer: Clippers in 7. Probably not what you want to hear, but it feels like the Clippers have their back up against a wall and that makes for a scary opponent. They have been together so much longer than the Jazz and have the experience to get through playoff stretches. The Jazz can absolutely win this series, but I think everything would have to go right for them.
Jarom: Jazz in 6. This isn’t me being a homer (it’s totally me being a homer), but I think this will either be Jazz in 6 or Clips in 5. It comes down to game 2. If Jazz can steal game 2 I think they will be able to close at home in game 6. If the Jazz can get over the mental “can we actually win” hurdle they will win. If they lose the 2 away games, I don’t think they’ll recover.
Thatcher: The overall sentiment across the sporting world has been Clippers in 5 or 6. While it can be difficult trying to separate fandom from rationality, I’m still going with the Jazz in 7. I think the pressure will get to the Clippers, and Gobert and Hayward will step up, proving that they’re bonafide stars in the NBA. They’ve continued to excel and grow every single month of the season, and I see no reason why this trend won’t continue into the playoffs.
Laura: Clippers in 6, unfortunately.
Jimbo: If I had to put my own money on it: Clippers in 5. If I had to put someone else’s money on it: Jazz in 6.