It's been a long time coming for the Los Angeles Clippers.
For NBA title contention, that is.
Long the league's laughingstock, the Clips have thus far asserted themselves as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. Just eight games into the 2012-13 season, they've racked up convincing wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, the arch-rival Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, the revamped Atlanta Hawks and most recently (and most notably), the Miami Heat.
Not that beating the Heat at home is anything new for the Clips. They've yet to lose to the South Beach ballers at the Staples Center since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade under Pat Riley's omnipotent thumb.
But it's how the Clippers came out on the right end of a 107-100 result—one that wasn't even that close—that should have the league taking notice like a pack of curious meerkats.
Chris Paul was his usual, steady, disruptive self with 10 assists on one end and four steals on the other. The bigger surprise, though, was how CP3 ripped off 13 points in a row in the third quarter, three of which came on a three-pointer from darn near Orange County.
Blake Griffin had himself another 20-10 (or, in this case, 20-14) evening, one made more impressive by a season-high six assists. DeAndre Jordan's eight points and six rebounds would've been expected in years past but came off as patently pedestrian after back-to-back 20-point games last week.
There was also the bench—good last year, great this year—which checked in at its season average with 41 points, including a game-high 22 from Jamal Crawford. In the fourth quarter, while LeBron was doing his best to will the Heat back into the game, the Clips' reserves busied themselves by expanding their advantage from 11 points to 19 points.
And for you Eric Bledsoe fanatics out there, how could anyone forget his crowd-pleasing block on Wade?
In other words, it was another striking, all-around effort for the Clips in a season that's thus far been full of them.
Keep in mind, too, that the Clippers have staked out a spot atop the Pacific Division without the services of Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill. Those two figure to deepen the rotation and strengthen the Clips' contender status that much more, assuming Vinny Del Negro integrates them accordingly.
Which, given VDN's track record, may be too much to assume.
Yet, as hot as the Clippers have been to this point, it'll take much more than a 6-2 record (albeit with a well-feathered cap) for this team to be taken seriously, rightly or wrongly.
Because, well, they're the Clippers. Outrunning the tragic history with which this franchise has been inundated since its inception in 1970 is going to require much more than a few weeks of good vibes and entertaining games.
If not for the futility of the Grizzlies and the Charlotte Bobcats, the Clippers would still be the league's biggest losers by winning percentage. The Clips are 22 years younger than the Lakers but have racked up 231 more defeats than their ballyhooed bunkmates over the years.
That's a lot of catching up in the worst way.
Speaking of those Lakers, they'll always be the bigger story in L.A. even when they're not winning, as has been the case this season. Somehow, the Clips, with a shaky head coach (VDN) and a superstar free agent to be (CP3) have looked like a picture of stability next to a Lakers team with, well, a shaky head coach (the dispatched Mike Brown) and a superstar free agent to be (Dwight Howard).
The Clips had a solid summer you say? They strengthened their second unit with solid veterans?
No problem. All the Lakers did was stock up on star power with Howard and Steve Nash, thereby stealing the Clippers' thunder.
And then some.
The Clips look great so far? Well, the turbulent Lake Show, with all of its drama, makes for far juicier fodder. And if/when they start winning again under Mike D'Antoni, the conversation in Southern California will still revolve around the Lakers. Case in point: Mike Tirico and Jeff Van Gundy talked at length about the Lakers' melodrama during the Clips-Heat broadcast on Wednesday.
That's the way it's always been and likely will be until the Clippers do that which the Lakers have often made to look routine.
Should the Clippers be considered contenders in the West?
Win a championship...or two...or more. It's tough for the Clippers to compete for attention when all of the banners and jerseys in the rafters of their building are tinted Forum Blue and Gold.
Especially when the Lakers are adding a statue of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the uniforms of Shaquille O'Neal and Jamaal Wilkes to the downtown decor.
As a wise man might've said, the Clippers can't get any respect. This, despite looking like an honest-to-goodness threat to make the Finals out of the wild West.
It's early, though. The season is young, with 74 games left to be played between now and the start of the postseason in mid-April.
You can bet the Clips' legitimacy will be tested along the way. Perhaps, they'll regress back to their historical mean. Perhaps adding more guys who deserve minutes to the mix will disrupt L.A.'s burgeoning chemistry. Perhaps the Clipper Curse will claim another victim on this stacked roster.
Or, perhaps the Clippers will stem the tide of negativity, if not turn it back entirely. Perhaps extending the rotation to 10, 11 or even 12 players will be, you know, a good thing.
And if there's any benefit to being the Lakers' runty step brothers for the Clippers, it's the element of surprise. They can keep on winning, keep on playing basketball that's both effective and fun to watch without the pressure that comes with outsized expectations and national media attention.
So let the basketball world take its time coming around to the Clips at its own peril. They've waited more than 40 years for the rest of the NBA to take them seriously.
What's another few months?