Now that the dust has settled on Lob City, it's time to take a step back and examine this year's Clippers a little closer.
Gone are the two preseason games against the Lakers and the "official" season opener against the much-improved Warriors. Gone is the hype around the addition of Chris Paul, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups. The honeymoon is over for the Clippers. Now it's time to see if they can make the difficult transition from potential to productive.
There is no better place to start for this year's Clippers than in San Antonio.
San Antonio may literally translate to Saint Antonio, but to the Clippers it just means LOSS. Their last victory in the Alamo City came while Blake Griffin was a pre-teen.
In 2002, 12-year-old Griffin might have been shocked to hear that the then 23-23 Clippers beat the 29-14 Spurs in San Antonio. After all, even though the Clippers were playing respectable basketball and had a young team full of potential led by Elton Brand, Quentin Richardson, Lamar Odom and others, Los Angeles basketball was dominated then by the Lakers.
So much has changed in 10 years.
The Clippers beat the Spurs on 1/31/2002 behind 20 points from Michael Olowokandi, 19 from Brand and 18 from Richardson. It was a watershed moment for a young team that was poised to grow and challenge for the Western Conference title a short four years later.
That's normally how growth occurs in the Association. You develop a team of individuals, take your lumps over years which results in bonding those individuals into a team. Look at the OKC Thunder.
They drafted Kevin Durant in 2007 and went 15-67. In 2008, they added Russell Westbrook and improved to 21-61. 2009 was a breakthrough season that saw the 50-win Thunder make the playoffs, losing in the first round. 2010 brought five more wins and a deeper run in the playoffs. This year, they are strong favorites to win the whole thing.
Four years is the normal NBA gestation period from stinker to stunner.
The Clippers are hoping to break that mold. They deviated from the normal growth pattern by bringing in veteran All-Stars, adopting a catchy nickname and generally conducting themselves with a swagger never seen in Clipper-ville.
The first true test for this group of individuals as they try to develop into a team in this shortened NBA season comes tonight at tip-off. Will the Spurs dominate again, bringing back memories of the when the team was better known as Sob-City or will this Clippers team take another significant step towards respectability?
Sure, it's technically the second game of the season, but for this team it's much more. It's the first real test for a team that has championship aspirations.