Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers rose out of the ashes. First, management prudently traded for arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul without giving up superstar Blake Griffin.
With a shortened offseason and the losses of Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler at crucial times during the season, Los Angeles actually performed pretty well.
In fact, the Clippers beat a very good Grizzlies team in seven games and advanced to the Conference Semifinals.
However, they ran into a better and more experienced Spurs team that easily dispatched the Clippers in four games.
Can Los Angeles put it together next season and win the Western Conference? It is definitely conceivable.
For the time being, let's see how the Clippers match up with the Celtics.
Each component of each team is rated like a boxing match, to see whether the Heat or the Celtics have the advantage next season.
Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul: EVEN
Avery Bradley and Jamal Crawford: EVEN
Paul Pierce over Caron Butler: 10-9
Blake Griffin over Brandon Bass: 10-8
Kevin Garnett over DeAndre Jordan: 10-8
Celtics Bench over Clippers Bench: 10-9
Doc Rivers over Vinny Del Negro: 10-8
Even with the newest additions, the Celtics have a four-point advantage over the Los Angeles franchise.
Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul are two of the best point guards in the league. It is hard to justify as either being better than the other, especially when postseason play is factored into the equation.
With this being said, I would say that both All-Stars cancel each other out.
The same goes for Avery Bradley and Jamal Crawford, but for different reasons. Bradley is an outstanding on-ball defender, while Crawford is a scoring machine when he gets hot.
Both players have their deficiencies: Bradley's being his jumpshot and Crawford's being his mediocre defending. Their weaknesses allow for them to be graded as even.
When healthy, Caron Butler is a fringe-All-Star small forward. If you can remember, the Mavericks looked unstoppable with him in the lineup.
However, Butler is injury-prone and his jumpshot is worse than Paul Pierce's. The advantage in this case goes to "The Truth."
Here is the one position where the Clippers have a decided advantage over the Celtics. While Brandon Bass is a solid starter at the power forward, Blake Griffin's athleticism would allow him to dominate the smaller Bass.
With Paul even throwing him well-placed lobs, Griffin is a matchup nightmare against anyone.
While DeAndre Jordan has shown that he is an athletic shotblocker, that is really all he can do at this point in his career.
Jordan's offensive game and on-ball defending are leaps and bounds behind the older and more experienced Kevin Garnett. While KG has been considered "too skinny" to play the center, he is only 12 pounds lighter than the Clippers center.
Look for Garnett to dominate this matchup.
If Jeff Green is able to play like he did when he was on Oklahoma City, look for the Celtics to have the best bench in the league.
In terms of coaching, there really isn't a case that you can make for Vinny Del Negro. At times, his inexperience shows when he mismanages players and their minutes. In addition, he fails to understand the transition offense and team defense.
Rivers on the other hand, is one of the top three coaches in the league, along with Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau. Not only is he very good at developing a good game plan for four quarters, but also he is one of the better late-game strategists in the league.
With all of this being said, the Clippers will be a formidable opponent for the Celtics. The problem is that both teams have roadblocks in their way.
Los Angeles will need to navigate through a deep and loaded Western Conference, while Boston needs to slay their dragon in the Miami Heat.
The clash of styles is really what makes this potential series so intriguing. While the Clippers have young elite talent in Paul and Griffin, the Celtics have a battle-tested group that yearns for a third shot at a championship.
If these teams play in the Finals, I am definitely watching.
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