If you’re fairly new to following professional American basketball, you’d probably be shocked to hear that the Los Angeles Clippers are pretty much the worst franchise in the history of the NBA. Prior to drafting Blake Griffin they really, really sucked.
Since moving to LA in 1984, the Clippers have only been to the playoffs six times, and on four of those occasions they exited the post-season in the opening round.
Even if you go way back to the beginning, when the club was known as the Buffalo Braves (1970-78), they’ve never even advanced past the Conference Semi-Finals.
But that was then and this is now.
Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin have legitimized the LA Clippers.
They’re peaking at the right point in the season, but how deep can they really go come playoff time?
The Clippers were good last year, too. They won the last seven games of the season to clinch their first ever Pacific Division title, and from there they went on to win their first two playoff games over the Memphis Grizzlies.
And here is where the shit hit the fan.
The Clippers went on to lose the next four games to Memphis, each by a double-digit margin. High hopes quickly turned into cries of “the same old Clippers.”
Will things be different this time around? I say, “Yes.”
Doc Rivers has instilled a new level of confidence and stability.
No offense to Vinny Del Negro, who’s a great coach, but Rivers is simply getting more out of his players. Especially DeAndre Jordan.
Under the tutelage of his new coach, Jordan is having the best year of his career. He attacks the boards like a man on a mission and leads the league in rebounds. He’s also posting career bests for points (10.2) and blocks (2.4).
Rivers has got him focused on defense and crashing the glass, the things that a team relies on their big man to get done. He’s getting it done and transforming into one of the better centers in the NBA.
And it’s not just Jordan that has fallen under his spell. This team’s got an identity, and they’re no longer satisfied with regular season wins. He’s got them hungry for more and so the question that we must ask ourselves is: “Are they good enough to take that next step?”
If the season ended today, and the top seeded team won each first round series, the Clippers would face off against OKC in the Conference Semis. What are their chances of beating Durant and Co. in a seven game series?
As of late, LA has been playing nearly flawless basketball, and most Power Rankings put them firmly at #2 behind the Spurs. But Power Rankings are there for people to tweet about. They have no bearing on who gets to hoist the trophy at the season’s end.
The playoffs are a completely different animal and experience matters. Prior to qualifying for the post-season these past two years, the Clippers suffered through five straight losing campaigns.
The Thunder, on the other hand, have been to the playoffs four years running and won at least one series in every trip, advancing to the NBA Finals in 2011-12.
Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the league and is possibly from another planet. Putting the ball into his hands is just about as good as placing it directly into the net.
But Blake Griffin has been playing like a man possessed. There have been whispers that he ought to be seriously considered as an MVP candidate.
So who wins out, the more experienced team from OKC or the streaking club from Los Angeles, LA’s “other” team?
Under Del Negro I wouldn’t have given the team much of a chance. While he was half-joking, he once told a reporter that the team’s offensive playbook involved giving the ball to Chris Paul and seeing what happens.
While true basketball enthusiasts may argue that the modern game has got more of a blacktop feel to it than during previous decades, we’re still talking professional basketball here and not pick-up games at the playground. Jesting or not, it’s unacceptable for a coach at the highest level to quip that his team’s offensive strategy consists of handing the rock to the best scorer.
Rivers has brought back fundamentals to a talented group of players who were used to winning on ability and not team chemistry. This season they run more set plays, more pick and rolls, and the offense works to deliberately get the ball into the hands of their shooters at precise locations instead of simply “where the ball bounces.”
So yeah, with a coach that fairly recently won a title with the Boston Celtics, I think that the Clippers have just as good a shot to make it out of the West as the Spurs or Thunder.
It would certainly be a fitting end for the worst franchise in the history of the NBA to take home a championship. Although they’d need more than a trophy or two if they ever hope to become the true darlings of Los Angeles.
Not a believer, check this out … Chris Paul to Blake Griffin back-to-back alley oop windmill dunks (say that five times fast):
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