If I gave you the following clues could you guess the team that fits the bill?
There is a basketball team in Los Angeles that is red hot. They have the longest win streak in the NBA at 11 straight games. They play at Staples Center, sport the second-best record in the entire NBA. You just can’t get a ticket right now as they have a sellout streak at home of 64 consecutive games.
Still not sure? Alright here are a few more hints. They have a former finals MVP on their squad and arguably the best backcourt player in the game with hopes of bringing another championship to the City of Los Angeles.
If you answered the Los Angeles Clippers, you’re right. Wait, the Clippers? That sad-sack group that up until last year, was the laughing stock of the NBA?
Yep, the good ship Clipper is sailing along right now and with an upcoming schedule that will see them face Sacramento at home, Phoenix on the road, before two more home games against Denver and Boston, does anyone care to predict where the next loss is coming?
The last time the team had a win streak this long, they were in Buffalo, were my favourite team when I was a kid, and called the Braves. They were led by the likes of former MVP Bob McAdoo with Dr. Jack Ramsay patrolling the sidelines. But these are the new Clippers and they are already off to the best 25 game start in team history at 19-6 and look to be built for the long term.
Yes everyone still is, and will be, focused on Los Angeles’ other team, the Lakers, particularly with their sub-.500 record, the drama surrounding Pau Gasol and the teams struggles not to mention the imminent return of former two-time MVP Steve Nash. But it’s the Clips and their play that deserve the attention.
So what has changed in L.A.? Well you can thank the trade that happened last season, and NBA commissioner David Stern, because Chris Paul is leading the charge. Here’s one for debate. If Paul isn’t the best overall point guard in the NBA when you consider the combination of scoring and passing, not to mention defense and that nebulous quality of leadership, then who is I ask?
After last season’s playoff run, it became obvious to Blake Griffin that he needed to add skill pieces to his game if the team was going advance toward a title. This December alone, Griffin is averaging just under 19.8 ppg while shooting 58.5 percent from the floor with just over eight rebounds per game. His mid-range face-up jump shot seems to have improved but let’s reserve judgement until we see how it holds up under playoff pressure next spring.
The Clippers have a number checkmarks in boxes that are essential to a title. They play defense (Fourth NBA in opponents scoring 92.4 ppg, Fourth NBA in opponents FG% 42.6%, second in fewest points in the paint allowed 36.6 ppg), they can score in paint (second NBA at 47.9 ppg), they share the ball (3rd NBA at 23.2 assists per game), they don’t turn it over and have experience. The only knock might be suspect rebounding at times but they are capable when they choose to be.
Los Angeles has veterans in Paul, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Rony Turiaf and have yet to add former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to the regular rotation as he has been in and out of the line-up with injury. Another veteran, Grant Hill is also working to try and get back in the line-up to contribute. There is athleticism in youngsters, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe, who currently leads a potent second unit off the bench.
The Clipper bench is the second-highest bench scoring unit in the NBA. They do feature a pair of former NBA Sixth Man of the Year winners in Crawford and Odom and as a unit possess great versatility and experience. Go and check the box scores. It’s not unusual to see head coach Vinny Del Negro leave his starters on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, even in close games, allowing the bench to close out the game.
True we have just past the quarter pole of the NBA season and there are no teams being measured for rings or orders put in for championship banners to be hung from the rafters but keep an eye on the Clippers. It would be quite the turn of fortunes if there was a NBA victory parade next June in downtown Los Angeles and it featured Red, White and Blue instead of purple and gold.