After being humiliated by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of last season's playoffs, the Clippers were considered a facade.
Sure, Los Angeles had plenty of talent on paper, but clearly it wasn't enough to propel them toward title contention. Players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were simply too one-dimensional to ensure this franchise would prosper in the near future.
Then came the offseason. The Clippers completely re-tooled their roster, adding experienced veterans like Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf, while also retaining the injured Chauncey Billups.
By all accounts, it was a successful summer for Los Angeles' red-jerseyed stepchild. The team was visibly more talented than last season and even staring down the barrel of Paul's impending free agency, this team had the potential to thrive.
Or did it?
Despite the slew of household names the Clippers now had on their docket, there seemed to be too many potential obstacles for them to overcome.
What if Paul got injured? What if Billups didn't return to action at all? What if Odom really was washed up? What if Griffin's knee or elbow caved under the pressure of a rigorous schedule? And what if Crawford continued his penchant for inefficient offense?
Those account for not even half the potential quandaries Los Angeles was forced to ponder, some of which ultimately came to fruition.
Billups is still nowhere to be found, Odom has been underwhelming at best and Griffin's production is down as he continues to wage battle against a burst bursa sac in his right elbow.
In other words, the Clippers have all the makings for a season marked by gloom and doom.
And yet, they're still winning. Paul and company opened up the season with a 4-2 record that included impressive victories over the Memphis Grizzlies, Lakers and Spurs—teams that all finished with a better record than them last season.
Now how about that? From beating an undefeated Spurs team to manhandling a star-studded Lakers roster, the Clippers have been firing on all cylinders.
But is it going to last?
It seems unjust to question the validity behind such impressive victories, yet Los Angeles is still wrought with injuries and players who aren't performing up to par. Are we actually supposed to buy into the notion that a team which needs to overcome a battery of obstacles is actually a conference powerhouse?
Simply put, yes.
I understand that losses to the inconsistent Golden State Warriors and inferior Cleveland Cavaliers are of concern. That said, the Clippers responded to such disappointing losses with two equally impressive wins.
This reveals plenty about their collective character, especially in their victory over the Spurs.
No longer is this a team one-dimensional team. Griffin—despite scoring less points per game—has taken great strides toward improving his off-the-dribble offense. Jordan continues to be a defensive force, yet has complemented that with a refined post game. And Jamal Crawford continues to shoot a high percentage from the field. Like really high.
Throw in the fact that the Clippers are scoring the fourth most points per game (104.3) in the league and shooting a second-best 50.2 percent from the field, and you have an offensive force to be reckoned with.
Their defense hasn't been too shabby either, as they're allowing just over 97 points per contest, keeping them in the top half of the Association in that department.
Yes, there is still much that could go wrong for this team. Bear in mind, however, that plenty has already has.
Odom is playing like he's still with the Dallas Mavericks, Billups remains on the shelf and Griffin hasn't been able to be his usual self.
Yet again, the Clippers continue to win despite all that. They continue to spit in the space of adversity: Which is why we need to believe in them.
Not just because the Western Conference is suddenly wide open, but because the stage is set for them to implode and they haven't.
I didn't see the Lakers playing any sort of competent basketball before they ousted Mike Brown, but they're still considered a force.
So why not the Clippers? I myself, like so many others, had avoided admitting it for so long. Surely they weren't for real. Surely this team would cool off.
But they haven't and they won't.
And after a hot start under far from optimal circumstances, it's time for us to recognize the Clippers for what they really are—a legitimate powerhouse.
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