The Los Angeles Clippers acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in December of 2011, and soon after; the new-look Clippers were born, who featured Paul, No. 1 pick Blake Griffin, head coach
Doc Rivers, and a handful of role players. Flash forward to spring of 2014 and the Clippers were leading the Houston Rockets 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, before imploding and losing the series in seven games. The elusive conference finals continued to escape from the blue-and-red. Jump to April 29, 2015. The Portland Trail Blazers finished off a fourth consecutive win against the Clippers, eliminating them from the first round in six games, in a series that included season-ending injuries to Griffin and Paul.
Now, coming into the 2016-17 season, all of the talk was on the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, who were seemingly on a crash course for a third straight NBA Finals matchup. But somehow, two weeks into the NBA season, and the Clippers have the best record in the NBA. Obviously it is extremely early, with still over five months to go in the regular season, but Los Angeles is off to a great start. On opening night, LA got slight revenge against Portland, beating them 114-106 on the road. Since then, the Clippers have only looked stronger. Something that became apparent in the second game of the season, an 88-75 win over the Utah Jazz, is that the new version of the Clippers can win in a number of ways. Rivers has talked this team into playing team defense, rotating off of the ball much better, and because of the Griffin and DeAndre Jordan being so athletic, the bigs are able to switch on pick and rolls. It doesn’t take a 100-plus performance for the Clippers to win anymore. They don’t have to outscore every single opponent to come away with a win. But that’s not to say that this offense isn’t as efficient as ever.
The Clippers are averaging 105.1 points per game, and have the highest average point differential at +16.8 points. LA’s potent offense is led by Griffin’s team-high 19.6 points and Paul’s 8.4 assists per game. The 88.3 points given up per game is the best in the league, by a wide margin (the next closest is the Jazz with 95.4 points against per game). This defense has been incredible on the young season, averaging the second most steals (10.1) and ninth most blocks (5.4) in the NBA. It is far too early to say anyone is going to win the title, let alone even make it to the Finals or be the No. 1 seed, but it is not too early to acknowledge that the Clippers are to be taken seriously in 2016-17. Rivers, Paul, Griffin, and Co. have their eyes set on the conference finals and beyond, and it just might be the season they finally get there.
By: Charles Post (@chasp23 on Twitter)