In the CP3/Blake era I’ve had a hard time buying into this team as a viable contender for various reasons. I didn’t think they defended enough, we saw way too much of Chris Paul trying to do everything by himself down the stretch of games, and Blake Griffin hadn’t matured on offense or defense. While the other night against the Mavericks was a sample size, we’re starting to see different things from Griffin on the defensive end, as he did a fantastic job guarding Dirk and making it uncomfortable in crunch time as the Clippers got a big road win and are now at 51 wins for the season. The improvement goes deeper than just Blake.
Doc Rivers deserves a lot of credit for not only fine tuning the Clippers offense (1st in scoring 107.4 PPG and 2nd in Off Rtg 109.3 with only Miami ahead of them) but has kept them solid on defense as well (8th in Def Rtg at 101.6). Now Deandre Jordan and Griffin won’t win any defensive player of the year awards, but overall the Clippers have played great (2nd in Point differential +7.0 only behind the world beating Spurs) and have created a new identity for themselves which they hope can carry towards the playoffs.
A lot of people have pointed to it and it has been very true. The Chris Paul injury earlier in the season was a blessing in disguise because it forced Blake Griffin to take more control and ownership of the offense. He’s gotten plenty of criticism the last couple of seasons for just being a dunker but it’s been a little unfair basically because he hasn’t even reached his prime yet. You have to love the improvements in his game as far as passing, moves in the post and his midrange game. While Chris Paul is the key to the Clippers, Blake is the engine that needs to impact the game in more than one way. Will he always be able to stop guys like Dirk? No, not always but you have to love the effort and in a power forward heavy conference (possible 1st round matchups with Lamarcus Aldridge, David Lee, and Zach Randolph) he’s going to need to step it up on the defensive end of the court.
Watching this team in the playoffs will be very intriguing because the playoffs reveal who you are as a team in all facets. While the way they’ve played has been very impressive thus far, they had a great regular season last year and then proceeded to blow a 2-0 lead to the Memphis Grizzlies and basically got pushed around the last 4 games of the series. I think Doc has an effect on this and his leadership will provide stability in tough times for this team. It also would help if they got JJ Redick back who’s an important extra dimension to their offense. It’s been hard for me to come around on the Clippers, but I’m getting there.
Around The League
Heat/Pacers is truly the standard for fun NBA theater. All 3 games this season have been hotly contested, defensive battles as these 2 heavyweights go back to their corners before their last regular season showdown the last Friday of the regular season. From all the Flagrant/non-flagrants to Lance Stephenson/Heat issues in general, nothing other than a 7 game throwdown between these two squads would satisfy me.
The race for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference has been pretty hilarious as the Hawks continue to try and give the Knicks every opportunity to enter the fray as going into Friday night the Knicks were 1.5 games back, 2 in the loss column. The Hawks have really missed Kyle Korver and it’s been evident in this 4 game losing streak as they’ve missed his 3 point shooting and spacing the floor. As for the Knicks, it’s still hard to believe that they’re this close but their schedule is still a problem come now and April as they’ll be playing virtually nothing but playoff teams from here on out. The 2 losses to Cleveland and the Lakers may do just enough damage that the Hawks will finish 8th, but the Hawks do need to win a game or two.
San Antonio now has won 15 in a row and has looked incredibly impressive doing that. They’re healthy, clicking and speeding toward the end of the season with the best record in the league. Do they face some possible matchup issues in the West playoffs? Yes if you’re talking about Houston or OKC, but with that being said, who else do you trust in the conference? Exactly. San Antonio is the favorite until otherwise.