It's not like it should come as a complete and total shock to NBA fans that the Los Angeles Clippers are 29-9 on Jan. 15. It is a good basketball team, as evidenced by their 17-game winning streak to end 2012. But therein lays the shock: The Los Angeles Clippers
are a good basketball team.
A team that both Sports Illustrated
and ESPN have at times named the worst franchise in North American professional sports (although whose recent success led to the supplanting of the dishonour by the Toronto Maple Leafs in ESPN's most recent rankings) is a good basketball team, and perhaps, wait for it, the best in the NBA.
Of course in sports, the past doesn't always dictate the talent a franchise currently possesses. It takes years -- or decades as Leaf and Clipper fans can attest -- of mediocrity and incompetence to reach such breathtaking levels of inferiority.
In reality however, the Clippers make the Leafs look like the St. Louis Cardinals. As bad as Toronto hockey fans think they have it, they have not a) compiled a .370 winning percentage in the last 29 seasons, and b) been owned by a person like Donald Sterling, who at best has been called eccentric, at worst accused of unethical and racist business practices. It's not even close. Consider alone that the championship-free franchise was born as the Braves in Buffalo, a city that cannot win.
Current Clipper players shouldn't have to answer for the past sins of the franchise, but if their success continues around this pace heading down the stretch, that narrative automatically rears its head. The team's leader, point guard Chris Paul
, knows the Clippers have a tough road ahead matching Oklahoma City win-for-win for top seed in the Western Conference.
"This is something we've been talking about all season," Paul told ESPN following L.A.'s loss to Orlando at home Saturday. "There have been many games where we didn't get off to a great start, and our bench has carried us all year long."
Those subs, "A Tribe Called Bench" as they have taken to calling themselves, are the No. 1 reason the Clip is as good as they are. Behind starters like Paul, Blake Griffin
, Caron Butler
and Andre Drummond are runners like Eric Bledsoe
, Matt Barnes
, Jamal Crawford
and Lamar Odom
. Outside of that second unit, this is basically the same team as last year -- right down to missing guard Chauncey Billups for most of the season. And as usual, the true improvement has come defensively. The Clippers, mainly because of "Tribe", have jumped from the middle of the pack in points allowed last year to fourth in the NBA this season.
In Monday night's smackdown
of a good Grizzlies team in Memphis, Paul sat out with a bruised kneecap but was surely content to watch Bledsoe start at the point to the tune of 14 points. Off that bench, Barnes and Crawford led scorers with 16 while the Clippers harassed Memphis into 30 per cent shooting.
The team is winning while also dealing with off-court adversity: Sterling's son, Scott, was found dead from a suspected overdose on New Year's Day. In November, the Clippers' long-time Staples Center P.A. announcer David Courtney died of a pulmonary embolism.
With the Lakers and Clippers pulling what appears to be a Bizarro World switcheroo with the prince and the pauper of L.A.'s sports scene trading places, you almost want to root for these guys. Are they better than the Thunder? No, probably not. Has Vinny Del Negro become a great coach? No, probably not, but he does deserve a ton of credit for the way he's played that bench while managing egos.
missed that Clippers-Grizzlies game Monday to attend the funeral of his grandmother, and while the trade rumours around him heat up, apparently they are cooling with the Raptors according to various reports. This is probably a good thing for Toronto. Gay is a good player, but he's owed approximately $37 million US over the next two seasons. This is the reason the Grizzlies are looking to move him -- teams are going to be far more hesitant to approach the NBA's luxury tax in the new collective bargaining agreement. And unless the Raptors can shed some dead weight elsewhere, it would be dangerous to take on Gay's salary in exchange for an expiring contract in Jose Calderon
You also must wonder if such a move would be one of desperation with Bryan Colangelo's contract expiring as well.
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