One could very well make the argument that the Los Angeles Clippers are already in their nightmare scenario, as they will be without the services of Paul George until the next few weeks due to a knee injury. With a little over two weeks to go before the 2023 NBA playoffs, the lingering uncertainty regarding George's status casts such a huge shadow of doubt over the Clippers' chances of mounting a deep postseason run.
But as is the case with every playoff run, fortune will play a huge part in determining which comes out of the postseason gauntlet unscathed. Fans and pundits may like to use asterisks to signify which team benefitted more from the luck of the draw than others, but injury luck and matchup problems (or lack thereof) have always affected the playoff picture.
And the Clippers truly need their luck to take a turn for the better, given how snakebitten the team has been throughout their franchise's history.
With that said, this is the nightmare seeding scenario the Clippers should be using as motivation to end the regular season on a high and put themselves in the best position to make some postseason noise, Paul George's injury absence notwithstanding.
Clippers' nightmare seeding scenario: Drops to play-in, faces Los Angeles Lakers
For every team currently sitting in the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots in the Western Conference standings, dropping out of those outright playoff spots should constitute their worst nightmare. After all, this puts them in a position of needing to win a crucial do-or-die game (for the ninth and tenth seeds, two win-or-go home games) just to set up a date with one of the higher seeds.
Nevertheless, the thought of having to face the Los Angeles Lakers, either in a 7/8 or 9/10 matchup, should put the fear of a higher being into the Clippers' hearts. They should, especially, avoid the latter scenario; even if the Clippers end up being the ninth seed, there will be no such thing as home court advantage for them, as it's a near-certainty that Lakers fans will enter Crypto.com Arena in droves.
Even if they manage to vanquish the Lakers in that game, they will need to win yet another game to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, should they win that contest and win the eighth and final playoff spot, they would most likely set themselves up for a matchup against the Denver Nuggets, a team that has dominated them ever since their 3-1 chokejob in the 2020 NBA bubble.
Of course, it's highly unlikely for the Clippers to drop that far, all things considered. Following their huge win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, they now have a 40-36 record, which puts their record much closer to that of the fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns than the tenth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Alas, maintaining that position remains far from a guarantee for the Clippers, which makes the final six games of their season as crucial as they can be.
Realistic nightmare playoff matchup: Sacramento Kings
Make no mistake about it, a matchup between the Clippers and Sacramento Kings will be such a treat to watch for the neutral observer. Their past two battles, in particular, have delivered some high-octane action, with the two teams combining for 606 points.
However, the Clippers were on the losing end of both of those games, and they will not want to tempt fate by matching up against the Kings in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Of course, the Clippers could very well have turned a new leaf by then, especially with Nicolas Batum set to take over for the struggling Marcus Morris Sr. in their starting unit. Batum may no longer be the athlete he once was, but he remains one of the most intelligent defenders in the league with an underrated knack for protecting the rim. His versatility and shooting should come in handy.
Moreover, with Kawhi Leonard still healthy, the Clippers should possess the confidence of having the best player in a potential series against the Kings.
It remains quite unclear as well how the Kings' whirring, dribble handoff-heavy offense translates to the slower pace of postseason play.
At the end of the day, the Kings will possess homecourt advantage in a series against the Clippers, and the crowd at Golden 1 Center, as per usual, will be as rowdy as it can be. In addition, the Clippers have had troubles in the past dealing with a versatile, passing big man (Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis), and their ability to stifle dribble penetration isn't the best, as seen in De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk's scoring outbursts during their iconic 176-175 matchup in late February.
There are simply no easy matchups in the West. Given the league's parity at the moment, any team looks capable of advancing to the second round. But the Clippers might be better off facing yet another veteran team that they match up better against.