With the season half over we look at potential threats to the NBA Title, starting with the Los Angeles Clippers.Last December the Los Angeles basketball landscape changed forever when Chris Paul was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Hornets. The magnitude of that trade is only just becoming apparent as the Clippers currently sport a 32-10 record (equal 1st in the NBA) and look primed to make some serious noise in the playoffs. So, can the former perennial laughing stock of the NBA make a run at a title or will they fade into the distance? In Part One we look at the team as a whole and what we can expect from them for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
THE STARTERSPG - Chris Paul (17.0ppg, 9.7apg) - The man they call CP3 is one of the most talented and intelligent players in the league and the rise of the Clippers can firmly be attached to his play. His court vision, shot selection and quarterback style play has been essential to making the Clippers a winning franchise. He has used his clutch shooting to pull them through more than a few wins this season. If you want someone with the ball in their hands late in a game your #1 choice would have to be Chris Paul and that has to be comforting to Clippers fans. SG - Willie Green (6.5ppg, 1.5rpg) - While Willie is a bit of a head scratcher to start for this team it sort of makes perfect sense and I can understand why Vinnie Del Negro has made this choice. Like the Lakers are facing right now, having five players who want the ball all the time can be a problem. Green just has to space the floor and knock down a shot when asked to be effective. Jamal Crawford can then come in and do his thing against the opposition bench. It is expected that Chauncey Billups is going to take over this role when he returns but for now Green is doing a serviceable job. SF - Caron Butler (9.6ppg, 2.6rpg) - Butler has been battling injuries this season so has missed a few games. Like everyone else in the starting line-up he has sacrificed his minutes and numbers to give the bench more of a go. He still remains deadly from beyond the arc and can knock down a jumper when required. PF - Blake Griffin (17.8ppg, 8.4rpg) - Griffin has been criticised in the media for his lack of production this season but the big man has made some significant strides with his game. His free throw shooting, which for a while made him a big liability late in games, has improved to 64% and he is starting to make some long jumpers. We all know him for the big dunks and alley-oop finishes and expect those to continue. C - DeAndre Jordan (9ppg, 7rpg) - During the playoffs last season Jordan looked like a $40mil mistake when Del Negro didn't play him in 4th quarters because of his limited offensive game and horrible FT%. This season he has developed some nice post moves but his FT shooting is still a worry and he isn't a great reounder for his size and length.
A TRIBE CALLED BENCHWelcome to the trump card the Clippers have played all season that few teams can counter. This group have been cobbled together with rookies, journeymen and risky veterans and their bond has been paramount to the fantastic record the Clippers currently have. The energy and hustle that they play with has been unstoppable for a group that traditionally is only there to provide rest for the starters and maybe score a few buckets. Let's take a closer look at who they are and what they mean to the team. Jamal Crawford (16.5ppg) - Going into the season this was a risky signing for the Clippers as Crawford was coming off a very poor season in Portland and his reputation as a gunner could have hurt this team. Crawford has bounced back very well and is the favourite for sixth man of the year. The difference? Shooting. He is lights out from when he walks in the gym and he credits this to actually practicing shooting in the off-season. Crazy what some hard work can do. Eric Bledsoe (8.7ppg, 1.5spg) - They call him "Mini LeBron" with good reason. Bledsoe is a pocket sized dynamo that can get anywhere on the court he wants and crashes the boards like a player twice his size. He is the distributor of this bench tribe and when he is clicking with Barnes and Crawford the highlight reel plays never stop. Matt Barnes (11.3ppg, 5.3rpg) - Barnes has bounced around every Californian team in the NBA and finally arrives at the Clippers. Clearly he is making his final Californian stop his best with a combination of hard cuts, hustle and deadly three point shooting. He has come off the bench and provided some toughness and energy as required and has even started a few games when injuries hit Butler. His contribution to this team should not be underestimated. Lamar Odom (3.6ppg, 5.7rpg) - Signing Lamar was a high risk, high reward situation for the Clippers and after a shaky start it is looking like it might pay off. His body is slowly getting back into some sort of shape and the coaching staff and team have been nothing but supportive knowing what he can bring to the table. In the last month he has improved immensely and is starting to resemble the versatile big man we saw play for the Lakers championship teams. If he keeps going on this path then the Clippers will have a late game closer that can rebound and handle the ball. Add in the return of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups and this group has so much potential to be a real threat for the NBA Title.
What do you think? Can the Clippers become the Western Conference Champions? In Part Two we look at the remaining schedule and the potential playoff matchups.
Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok/AP