For six years, Chris Paul did everything in his power to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to the NBA Finals. Now, only one side will have the chance to get there. Paul’s Phoenix Suns will face those Clippers in the Western Conference finals, and the winner will have a chance to earn the NBA championship that has eluded both for decades.
Of course, Paul will miss an undetermined amount of time due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The Clippers are missing a star of their own as Kawhi Leonard is out due to a knee injury. They don’t know when he will be back either, and that makes this one of the most unpredictable series of the postseason. Both sides have proven they can hold their own without their stars. The Suns won Game 1 of their first-round series despite Paul suffering a shoulder injury that hobbled him for much of that matchup. The Clippers won Games 5 and 6 against Utah even without Leonard.
Now, both teams will see their depth tested against a conference finals-caliber opponent. Who will win? Here’s what our experts have to say.
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(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers
Reiter’s take: Chris Paul has found in this young Phoenix team the opus for his potential masterpiece, and the Kawhi-less Clippers, that Utah comeback notwithstanding, won’t pose enough of a challenge once CP3 is back. Devin Booker is a star, Deandre Ayton has taken 10 giant steps forward this season, and Phoenix will marshal the same energy and surety under pressure that got them here to keep it rolling. Pick: Suns in six
Quinn’s take: It was a valiant effort for the Clippers to get here without Kawhi Leonard, but at the moment, it seems as though he’ll be out longer than Chris Paul. Even if he isn’t, the Suns are slightly better equipped to play without their best player. Devin Booker can pick up the shot-creation load, and the Suns will do a better job of denying dribble penetration than the Jazz did (though Ayton faces the same danger Rudy Gobert did against these small Clipper lineups). The injuries make this the least predictable conference finals series in quite some time, but I’d lean Phoenix slightly. Pick: Suns in six
Botkin’s take: Kawhi Leonard being out is the difference. Chris Paul will likely be back at some point in the series, and I struggle to find a single hole in Phoenix’s attack. We’ll see how Ayton fares against the Clippers’ small units. but he can also beat them up on the glass and Phoenix has plenty of lineup alternatives. The Clippers can win this even without Leonard. They are loaded with shooting and Paul George is in star mode. It’ll be tight. But I give the edge to the Suns. Pick: Suns in seven
Wimbish’s take: Even without Kawhi, I think L.A. still manages to win this series. The Clippers are going to have several guys to throw at Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Chris Paul (when he returns). It’s not going to be an easy series, and both teams are going to get their shots, but I think the Clippers sneak past the Suns in what should be an exciting series. Pick: Clippers in seven
Ward-Henninger’s take: The Clippers’ small-ball approach should have the same effect on Deandre Ayton as it did on Rudy Gobert, which should help L.A. stay in a series in which they’re outmatched — at least on paper. Chris Paul’s absence is the key factor here, obviously, but assuming he’s back for Game 3 at the latest, the Suns should be able to stave off the pesky Clippers without Kawhi Leonard. As great as Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann and Marcus Morris have been, a lot is being asked of them against a team as good as the Suns. Pick: Suns in seven
Maloney’s take: It was amazing that the Clippers closed out the Jazz without Kawhi Leonard, but asking them to win an entire series while shorthanded is too much. Chris Paul’s absence for at least Game 1 does give the Clippers some hope, but the Suns are just a really good team so we’ll ride with them. Pick: Suns in seven