Before the 2016-2017 NBA season arrived in full force, it was clear that the Golden State Warriors were going to be the biggest story of the campaign. That comes with the territory after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets have captured quite a bit of attention as a result of James Harden’s MVP-worthy performance. The San Antonio Spurs are, well, the San Antonio Spurs, and even the Utah Jazz are (finally) coming into their own as a legitimate contender for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
But much of the NBA world has simply forgotten about the Los Angeles Clippers. As early April arrives, the Clippers are locked into a fight with the Jazz for homecourt in what appears to be a likely first-round clash between two contrasting teams, but a closer look indicates that Los Angeles isn’t a team that should be ignored when the playoffs finally materialize.
Chris Paul remains one of the best players (not just point guards) in the NBA and his impact is undeniable. With their All-Star point guard in the lineup this season, the Clippers are a robust 39-18 and that places Doc Rivers’ team on a 56-win pace for the campaign. When Paul sits, though, the Clippers are just 8-13 and that helps to explain why many people appear to be down on the team in a large-scale sense.
Still, a closer look indicates that, at full strength, the Clippers are as dangerous as ever. Few teams outside of the Warriors can match a four-man nucleus of Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and sharp-shooter J.J. Redick, and Los Angeles has quietly been not quite as ugly around the edges this season.
Even with the 21-game absence for Paul and another 21 games (!!!) on the shelf for Griffin, the Clippers boast the sixth-best net rating (+3.7) in the NBA. That number jumps considerably when Rivers is provided with a full complement of options.
Are the Clippers likely to unseat the Warriors in a potential second-round battle? Well, no. However, that has (much) more to do with a brutal match-up situation for Los Angeles than it does with the team being unworthy as a legitimate Western Conference contender.For better or worse, Golden State’s talent is just that tantalizing. The Clippers will have more than a few interesting decisions to make in the offseason but in the midst of what many seem to characterize as a “lost year”, this is actually a very good basketball team. Again.
Where do the Clippers stand when compared to the rest of the NBA as the regular season winds to a close? Let’s find out.