The Los Angeles Clippers may not have had the most impressive 2022-23 regular season campaign, finishing 44-38 despite all the championship prognoses they received during preseason. While the Clippers are one of those teams that many expect to turn it on when the playoffs begin, they have an extremely steep mountain to climb in the first round of the postseason, as Kawhi Leonard and company will need to overcome Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and the rest of the Phoenix Suns without the services of Paul George for at least the first few games of the series.
Even then, George's absence should not be the end of the world for the Clippers. After all, one of the Clippers' (supposed) biggest strengths is their depth. Even though definitively worse players on either end of the floor will get minutes in PG13's stead, there is potential for the Clippers' role players to take turns in exploding offensively to prevent the Suns from overwhelming Leonard too much with double teams.
Still, where the Clippers will miss George the most will be on the defensive end. His presence would have armed them with two lockdown perimeter defenders to make life as difficult as it can be for Durant and Booker.
But there's no use in crying over spilled milk. This is the current predicament the Clippers find themselves in, and all the players must do with George injured is to step up so they could prove all their naysayers wrong.
Here is the X-factor the Clippers will need to step up the most so they could beat the Suns in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs.
Clippers' biggest X-factor vs. Suns: Eric Gordon
Honestly, most members of the Clippers roster could have earned the distinction of being the team's biggest X-factor. There seems to be no consistency as to which role player steps up to fill their Paul George-sized void on any given night, and throughout the past few weeks, a few players, such as Russell Westbrook, Norman Powell, Eric Gordon, and Bones Hyland, have all taken turns in lifting the Clippers to much-needed victories.
Westbrook, in particular, stands as the Clippers' most dangerous offensive weapon outside of Kawhi Leonard, which can produce either the most thrilling highs or the most infuriating lows depending on how well the 2017 NBA MVP is shooting the basketball. He could definitely swing the series on his own if he continues being his relentless self when attacking the rim and attacking the offensive glass. He'll also be motivated, since he'll be facing Kevin Durant in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
However, when Russell Westbrook is struggling, Tyronn Lue has not had any hesitations pulling him in favor of Powell, Hyland, or Gordon. The Clippers could opt to roll with a scarier threat from beyond the arc instead, at the cost of rim pressure and pace.
And if ever the Clippers and Suns' duel ends up being a shootout, LA will need Eric Gordon to come out guns ablazing. Gordon, for his playoff career, has made 2.7 threes per night on 7,6 attempts (36 percent), and with George out of the picture to begin the series, the Clippers will need him to be on point.
Where Gordon needs to step up the most, however, is on the defensive end of the floor. Clippers fans may know that Gordon isn't particularly the quickest in a lateral sense, but his strong upper body allows him to play his matchup with physicality.
During the Clippers' February 16 matchup against the Suns, it was Eric Gordon who made life difficult for Devin Booker. Sure, the Suns did not have Kevin Durant available yet during that contest, but Gordon showed glimpses of how well he can defend one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league.
Gordon helped the Clippers hold Booker to 6-16 shooting during that night, dislodging him off of his preferred spots on the floor with his intense defense, and able to defend the Suns star's marauding drives to the hoop without fouling.
Thus, Gordon's ability to stay on the court this series by virtue of shooting the basketball well will be of utmost importance to the Clippers' chances of pulling off an upset over the Suns.
Given the Clippers' array of role players that could swing the series, however, the onus doesn't particularly fall on Gordon's shoulders to try and lift them to victory. Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, Robert Covington, and perhaps even Marcus Morris Sr. will be counted upon to make their shots and crash the glass, especially when the Clippers decide to go small.