Athleticism Will Make L.A. Clippers the Team to Beat out West

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Athleticism Will Make L.A. Clippers the Team to Beat out West
photo courtesy of hoopsmack.com

The San Antonio Spurs may have finished as the top team in the Western Conference each of the past two seasons, but the Los Angeles Clippers made them look like amateurs when they played one another on November 7. 

In front of some rowdy fans at the Staples Center, Lob City was in full effect as the Clippers walked away with a 106-84 victory.  The size and athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 42 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks while Chris Paul dished out 12 assists.

Compared to last season, the Clippers look a lot tougher and stronger this time around as everyone appears to be in better shape following a trip to the Conference Semis in 2012.  In the long run, this will only help the team become the team to beat in the highly competitive Western Conference.

Look at it this way: In the Clippers' starting lineup, three of the key players, Griffin, Jordan and Chris Paul, are under 30.  Each player has plenty of greatness left in them and their playing styles mesh well together. 

Their team's victory against the Spurs, featuring almost constant running up and down the court and more lobs than most could count, is indicative of just how much they can do against older teams like the rival Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

In fact, looking at highlights of the game, the Clippers showed an approach very similar to a team that nearly defeated the Spurs in the playoffs back in 2007.  That's right, folks, I'm talking about the Mike D'Antoni-coached Phoenix Suns.

Now, try and remember the players on that team and how they performed together.  They had a great point man in Steve Nash, who could score the ball just as well as he could pass it, two fine big men in Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, a good shooter in Raja Bell and an explosive forward in Shawn Marion. 

Were it not for some bad luck that resulted in suspensions of Stoudemire and Diaw, the team's only reliable big men, Phoenix easily could have used their run-and-gun game to knock the Spurs out.

The Clippers' balanced attack is similar to that of the Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns...photo courtesy of espn.com

Now, looking at the Clippers' roster this season, the similarities between them and the 2007 Suns are uncanny.  Paul is a fine scoring point guard with great passing skills, and he can also play tough defense.  In the frontcourt, Griffin is equivalent to Stoudemire in being an explosive forward in the paint, except he doesn't rely on a jump shot as much.

Jordan can be seen as a larger Diaw, except he actually plays defense, while Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford provide enough scoring and occasional explosiveness to be a Bell-Marion hybrid, albeit without the rebounding.

However, what sets this team apart from the Phoenix squads of old is one key word: defense.  DeAndre Jordan is an absolute beast in the paint and provides the perfect complement to the Clippers' fast-paced offense.  Best of all, he can provide the occasional spark on the other side of the floor.

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Thus, with an offense that is sure to tire out any team young or old, plus a center-and-point-guard combo capable of being absolute pests on the defensive end, the newly athletic Los Angeles Clippers are easily the team to beat in the Western Conference. 

Sure, it's still early, but the team is on the verge of pulling away and staying ahead of the rest of the competition.  The fact that a usual defensive player in Jordan had 20 points last night is just the icing on the cake compared to what this team is capable of doing.

That all being said, every NBA head coach had better get their teams running some speed-oriented drills.  The only way to beat the Clippers is to be faster than them, but that might not even be possible.

So long as they keep taking out top teams with their current approach, the Clippers are sure to become quite the force out West.

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