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Chris Paul's Clippers Separating Themselves from Title Pretenders

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Chris Paul's Clippers Separating Themselves from Title Pretenders
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paul's Los Angeles Clippers are rapidly separating themselves from the title pretenders.

On January 2, 2013, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 115-94. Three days later, the Clippers dominated the Warriors by a margin of 26 points.

Oh, the sweet taste of revenge.

CP3 dominated Stephen Curry, holding the young gun to 4-of-11 shooting and just five assists. Blake Griffin exacted revenge on David Lee, limiting him to 10 points, five rebounds and four turnovers on 3-of-10 shooting. Paul had 27 points and nine assists. Griffin had 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

This is yet another sign of a true title contender. A team that is not willing to accept defeat but instead plot its revenge and execute it at the highest level possible.

Just don't act as if this win is their only sign of legitimacy.

The Clippers are a balanced contender that preaches defense first and finds a way to translate turnovers into points. They're also an offense that successfully operates either in the half court or on the fast break—even if opposing fans want to tell you that they can't function in the former.

This beckons one very important question that few teams have been able to answer: how do you slow the Clippers down? If you're looking for that answer, it can be found in the following words: You can't. You can only attempt to outperform them.

So what proves their legitimacy?

 

Signature Victories

During their franchise record 17-game winning streak, the Clippers opponents had a collective win percentage of .418. Their Jan. 5 win over the Golden State Warriors, however, solidifies their resume.

Thus far, the Clippers have defeated the Warriors, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

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Perhaps most importantly, the Clippers are 18-5 against the Western Conference—you know, the teams they will be playing come the postseason.

Going 10-5 on the road doesn't hurt, either.

 

Unparalleled Balance

As of Jan. 6, 2013, the Clippers and Spurs are the only teams in the NBA with both a top-10 scoring offense and defense. With that being said, there are a handful of factors which separate LAC from the Spurs.

Starting with defense. The Clippers rank fourth in the NBA in scoring defense, allowing just 93.1 points allowed per game. San Antonio ranks 10th at 96.7. L.A. is also forcing a league-best 17.2 turnovers per game. SAS forces 15.2 per contest.

On offense, San Antonio holds a slight edge, scoring 105.3 points per game. Los Angeles ranks seventh at 101.9. That's a point differential of 8.8 for LAC and 8.6 for San Antonio.

So what separates the two most balanced teams in the NBA? Surprisingly, it is the area where San Antonio may be strongest: the second unit.

The Spurs own a slight edge with 42.0 bench points per game as compared to the Clippers 41.1. They have an equal level of efficiency at 49.7 and average more assists (11.3 to 8.3).

That's where the advantage ends.

The Clippers' second unit posts a league-high defensive efficiency rating at 16.0. San Antonio is second at 12.2, or 3.8 points fewer. LAC's bench averages an NBA-best 4.9 steals and a second-ranked 3.9 blocks per game. The Spurs average 3.9 steals and just 1.3 blocks via their second unit.

In other words, the Spurs reserves can light up the scoreboard but are not nearly as effective as the Clippers bench in preventing the opposition from scoring.

The Clippers are even with a perennial title contender until one factor—one which led to their 92-87 victory over the Spurs on November 19, 2012. It's an area which makes them a top team in the West.

Just ask Kobe Bryant (via B/R).

 

I think they're keeping a level head.

The Most Important Balance of All

We've acknowledged the Clippers balance between offense and defense. What we would be remiss in ignoring, however, is the most important balance of all: a mix of young athletes and reliable veterans.

A prime example is the point guard position, where Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups lead Eric Bledsoe. With Billups' championship pedigree, CP3's superstar status and Bledsoe's defensive tenacity, the balance is unmatched.

And that's not where it ends.

Blake Griffin is a legitimate star at power forward, averaging 17.7 points and 8.5 rebounds on a stacked roster. His backup, Lamar Odom, has a championship pedigree and is averaging 7.2 rebounds in 22.7 minutes since Dec. 5, 2012.

This goes all around, folks.

From Jamal Crawford to DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have the athleticism to overwhelm and the veteran prowess to maintain focus. Most importantly, they have the hunger to win a title. A hunger that will sustain. A hunger that has led L.A. to a season of pure and utter brilliance.

Most important of all, a hunger that has led to championship legitimacy.

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