We spent so much time before the season talking about the superteam in Oakland and the superteam in Cleveland and superteam in New York (you can laugh at that one) and the Duncanless Spurs and the Durantless Thunder and the upstart Lakers and the new look Bulls and even the Utah Jazz that we forgot to talk about one of the league’s best teams.
Though, to be fair, it was easy to write off the Clippers.
It was always the same story in a different year. After five straight campaigns where the Clippers entered the season with promise but failed to reach the Western Conference Finals, were they really going to be contenders this year?
It’s early yet, but it’s hard to say that the answer isn’t a resounding "yes".
The Clippers have started the season with a streak of exceptional basketball — Chris Paul hasn’t stopped finding ways to terrorize opposing backcourts, Blake Griffin continues to add and refine his already incredible game, the bench unit is providing value that no team in the Western Conference — not even San Antonio — can boast right now, and overall, Doc Rivers’ team is projecting confidence on every possession on both sides of the court.
There’s a lot that can go wrong: an injury to any of the team’s three best players — Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — would derail any notion of a championship, and the early-season successes could easily fade away as the long, 82-game season progresses. But at the moment, it’s hard to argue that any team in the NBA — yes, even the Cavs and Warriors — is playing as well as the Clippers.
That’s no small feat. If the Clippers were off your radar to start the year — if you fairly presumed they’d sleepwalk through the regular season, win 55 games, and maybe win a playoff series if they were lucky, you’re going to have to recalibrate.
Why? Look no further than their Wednesday night beatdown of the Blazers — a game where the Clippers led by as many as 48 points. It was the fourth-straight game the Clippers led by at least 18 at halftime. This is juggernaut stuff against excellent opponents. It cannot be written off as a simple hot streak.
In a contest where the Blazers were clearly not ready to play, the Clippers’ starting lineup was a plus-19 in 18 minutes — a number that would be incredible for most units but isn’t far off par for that crew. The Clippers’ starting lineup has the best defensive rating in the NBA (81.6) and an offensive rating of 108.6 — a net margin of 27.2, by far the best in the NBA.
The second-best defensive rating (89.2) in the league belongs to the Clippers’ five-man bench unit of Jamal Crawford, Mo Speights, Raymond Felton, Wes Johnson, and Austin Rivers.
Those names alone make this Clippers dominance seem tenuous, but the Clippers could hold this form (or not regress towards the mean too aggressively) — that starting lineup has three elite players at their positions, one of the league’s most underrated players in J.J. Reddick, and a defensive stopper in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. How far off could a lineup like that fall?
Even if the Clippers cannot maintain a full line change with its bench, the pieces are there to contribute going forward offensively. The defensive dominance is an incredible bonus early-on this season.
How does it square up against the Spurs and the Warriors? Only time will tell, but early returns are certainly encouraging in L.A.