The Los Angeles Clippers have asserted themselves as the best team in LA, but are they the best team in the West?
The Story So Far
The Clippers continued their modern-era resurgence this season, securing first-round home court advantage for the second consecutive year.
If they maintain their current hold on the third seed – Los Angeles (55-24) has a three game lead over Houston (52-27) with three games remaining – it will continue their trend of improvement in each of the last three seasons – they finished fifth in 2011-12 and fourth in 2012-13.
Not surprisingly, the Clippers climb up the standings coincides with Chris Paul’s move to Los Angeles from New Orleans.
The former Hornet is once again having a standout season in LA, averaging 19.1 points (46.3% FG and 85.8 % FT), a league-leading 10.7 assists, and 2.5 steals per game.
However, Paul is not the only reason LA has continued to rise up the rankings. In fact, with Paul missing 18 games due to injury, it was the play of Blake Griffin that ensured the Clippers did no fall down the standings.
In his fourth season, Griffin is having a career year, averaging 24.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. His biggest improvement has been the development of his jump shot. A career 64.0% free throw shooter, Griffin has upped that average to 71.0% this season, allowing him to become a more effective late-game player. Meanwhile, he has also improved his outside shooting 40.4% from 10-16 feet (up from 35.8% last season) and 37.2% from 16-25 feet (34.0%).
The development of DeAndre Jordan – 10.4 points (8.8 last season), a league-leading 13.8 rebounds (7.2) and 2.5 blocks per game (1.4) – as a serious defensive presence and efficient scorer (first in the NBA in field goal percentage at 67.4%, up from 64.3% last year – also first) has also played a huge role in Los Angeles’ improvement.
Meanwhile, the scoring of Jamal Crawford (18.6 PPG), hustle of Matt Barnes (9.8 PPG and 4.6 RPG) and solid point guard support of Darren Collison (11.4 PPG and 3.7 APG) gives LA one of the deepest benches in the league.
Postseason Performer to Watch
That unquestionable leader in Los Angeles is Paul, but how far the Clippers push in the postseason will be directly linked to how well Griffin can perform.
His career playoff averages – 17.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists – are well down from his impressive regular season career stats. Griffin’s postseason-struggles are a big reason for the Clippers not making it past the second round in each of their playoff appearances in the Paul-Griffin era.
In the past, teams have been able to pack the paint and restrict Griffin from getting easy looks at the rim. His inability to knock down outside jumpers in the past has prevented him from testing those defenses, but he has shown improvement this season and should be more of a threat this postseason.
With Paul out of the line up, Griffin led LA to a 12-6 record, upping his scoring average to 27.5 PPG along the way. It is a relatively small sample size, but it does suggest that Griffin now has what it takes to give the Clippers the second scoring option they have desperately missed the past two postseasons.
The goal is Western Conference Finals or bust for the Clippers this season.
They should be boosted by the improved play of Griffin and Jordan, while midseason additions Danny Granger and Glen “Big Baby” Davis give them one of the deepest rosters of any playoff team.
Meanwhile, CP3 looks to have fully recovered from the injuries that were nagging him earlier in the season.
First-year head coach Doc Rivers has LA playing both exceptional offence (second in the league in points per game at 107.7) and defence (eighth in defensive rating at 104.6) and he brings championship experience that Vinny Del Negro never offered.
They are definitely an improved team from last season, but the Clippers are still at best the third-best team in the West. The San Antonio Spurs are having another typically impressive season, while Kevin Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder playing inspired basketball on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately for the Clippers growing fan base, a second-round exit looks to be once again on the cards.
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