Wow, what a week it has been since the last edition of my Thursday column.
Over these past couple of days, I’ve struggled to understand the complexities of reality presented in front of me and I continue to be in awe at how we have reached this point as a nation. In many ways, I have felt my world tossed nearly upside down; axioms that I held true all my life have now become delusional fallacies.
In these trying times, I have been able to take solace in the stability of the little things that never seem to change.
The Timberwolves, now 1-5 in Tom Thibodeau’s rough early start in Minnesota, continue to lose ballgames despite darting to fast leads, an eerie pattern that alludes to the problems that plagued the Wolves under Mitchell last year. In the South, Russell Westbrook still leads the Thunder in points, assists and rebounds per game (30.4, 8.4 and 9.9, respectively), all cumulating in a whopping 30.7 player efficiency rating on the season.
Yet the changes presented in our lives are too big to simply ignore. Regardless of the blissful ignorance found in denial, I, along with the rest of the country, need to face the facts of this changed modern society…
The Clippers might actually be a title contender.
As an LA native, it’s shocking, to say the least. The longtime laughingstock of the NBA? The franchise that owns a 39.8 winning percentage en route to only 12 playoff appearances in 46 years? With the California Condor as its mascot?
Yes. It’s true.
The Clippers have really looked that impressive in their first eight games, jumping out to a franchise-best 7-1 record coming off a win while hosting the young and threatening Trail Blazers who knocked LA out of the playoffs last season.
Doc Rivers’ team has been elite for four consecutive seasons at this point, yet the Clippers always seem to continue their curse come April, as LA has yet to reach the Conference Finals (NBA semifinals) despite ranking in the top half of the Western Conference for four straight years. Whether injuries or off-court drama take their toll late in the season (see the original racist Donald), the Clippers have yet to take that leap to Tier 1 in NBA prior to the start of the season.
In fact, with starting point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin entering free agency this upcoming season, this year was make-or-break for the Clippers, with many around the NBA keeping a watchful eye on this team’s performance. If L.A. once again chokes, it’s not a stretch to imagine both Paul and Blake in different uniforms during the next campaign.
Despite all those distractions, however, both Doc Rivers and the roster seem to have found a balance, unlike prior teams that fell in the first round of the playoffs. This team looks connected, fluid and versatile, both offensively and defensively thus far. It continue to impress against good Western Conference teams, first defeating the Jazz handily at home and then grabbing a victory against a renewed Kawhi Leonard during his MVP campaign (see last week’s column).
Much of the success has to do with the stability the bench has produced.
Chris Paul, J.J. Reddick, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — the “Big Four” in LA — have impressed and continue to impress on the court, with their versatility and ability to shoot from nearly anywhere, making defense exponentially harder. It also doesn’t hurt that Paul is playing lights-out as well, owning a 33.8 player efficiency rating and continuing to average 19 points and eight assists per game.
But, the revolutionized bench has been the story for Doc Rivers and his staff. With the key addition of former Warriors center/role-player Marreesse Speights and point guard Raymond Felton playing alongside Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, the bench rotation for the Clippers has been able to keep a Los Angeles lead and even extend it, allowing more rest for their Big Four and ultimately revitalizing the Clippers’ starting rotation for their minutes on the floor.
The result has been visible.
Despite owning the worst defensive rating in the NBA, LA has held opponents to 90.7 points per game and has taken an early hold on the Western Conference standings, with its only loss so far this season coming against a Russell Westbrook 35-point showing in a back-to-back matchup for the Clippers. Their success, coupled with Griffin’s offensive performances against potential playoff contenders, shows a very exciting momentum swing that even I can’t help but acknowledge.
The Clippers and Chris Paul have a long and grueling season ahead of them before even thinking about reaching new heights in the Conference Semifinals and potentially the NBA Finals. While the Warriors remain the team to beat in the conference, their competitiveness against a winless Pelicans team, despite Steph dropping a record 13 threes, and their continually lackluster defense continues to give me more hope that LA could prove a rival to Golden State’s dominance.
“We’re good. We’re not great yet, in my opinion,” Rivers said in his press conference after a lopsided affair against the Pistons on Monday. “We’re going to keep trying to get better. Good is OK. Great is better.”
Well, this may be just “good” to Rivers, but if the Clippers continue exhibit this level of play, especially from their rotation players, then this team might actually be able to break the notorious Clipper curse.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas about any sightings of DeAndre Jordan’s free throw skills (last spotted somewhere on the 405) at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.