For the first time ever, a team from Los Angeles not decked in purple and gold could be the last team standing at the end of the NBA season.
Currently, the Clippers record stands at 33-13. That mark is good enough for third place in the Western Conference, just two games behind the San Antonio Spurs.
Going into the season, Clippers fans had reasons to be excited. They had Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Their team had just won its first playoff series in six years.
But few expected their current level of success. After a prodigious 17-game winning streak which spanned the entire month of December, the unheralded Los Angeles team gained national praise.
Since then, the team has cooled its engines a bit, posting a pedestrian 8-7 record since the turn of the year. Still, Clippers fans have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about their team heading down the stretch.
Of course the best point guard in the game heads the list of the Clippers' greatest assets. With the proficient-passing Chris Paul in their starting lineup, Los Angeles has posted a fantastic 28-10 record. Even more remarkable is their 14-7 record against currently seeded playoff teams when Paul plays.
Paul is one of those players who can do everything for a team--ball distribution, scoring, defense, leadership--you name it, he does it.
At 9.7 assists per game, Paul is the key cog that makes the Clippers' prolific offense go round. Whenever he is on the court, he makes everyone around him better. He has a keen eye for finding the open man, not to mention the dexterous passing skills to get that open man the ball.
Paul also forces defenses to account for him all over the floor because he can hit his shots. He scores 16.6 points per game and has a .473 field-goal percentage, a very respectable number for a point guard. His free-throw percentage of .897 is absolutely astounding as well.
The Clippers have two quality big men in power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. The two men play very different games, but having that kind of size can be hugely beneficial to teams.
While Griffin has been a great player in his three NBA seasons, he seems to be a different player this year. His scoring and rebounding numbers might be slightly down, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Griffin has been using more energy on the defensive side of the ball, and the results have been phenomenal. With he and Jordan protecting the paint, the Clippers have allowed the fourth fewest points per game in the league at 93.3. Griffin's career high 1.5 steals per game attest to his newly utilized defensive skills.
Jordan has always been a tough interior defender. Last season he was second in the league in blocks with 135. He has also been in the top 10 in fouls over the past two years, which is not necessarily good, but demonstrates the kind of defense he plays.
The two big men contribute a lot on the boards, combining for 15.3 rebounds per game. The rebounding from these two is crucial, as the team lacks other players who can get them consistent rebounding.
Of course, Jordan and Griffin give the Clippers scoring threats in the paint. Griffin leads the team in scoring at 18.8 points per game. He hasn't been taking as many shots but has been knocking them down with a .531 field-goal percentage. And that atrocious free-throw shooting of last season is a thing of the past, as his free throw percentage has risen from .521 to a more respectable .648.
Jordan does not score like Griffin does, but when he takes shots, he makes them. He ranks fourth in the league with a .598 field-goal percentage.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Clippers' great season is their bench. Last season the Clippers bench was terrible, ranking just 26th in bench scoring. This year, they are the best scoring bench in the league. The most crucial difference between the two benches is Jamal Crawford.
Crawford has provided a spark plug for the Clippers offense when he comes into the game. He is having an excellent season and is tied with Paul for third on the team in points per game with 16.6. His play has been good enough to elevate the Clippers bench to elite status.
They have other good bench pieces, too, such as small forward Matt Barnes, point guards Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe and power forward Lamar Odom. Barnes and Bledsoe have scored off the bench, Billups gives the unit some veteran leadership, and Odom has quietly contributed with 6.0 rebounds per game.
Other than the Oklahoma City Thunder, there really is no team who would be a definitive favorite over Los Angeles in a seven-game series. The Spurs, who currently hold the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, may have swept the Clippers last season, but that is unlikely to happen again. The Clippers have improved too much, and the Spurs' stars are just one year older. Last season was strike-shortened, so it benefited the older teams to play fewer games. This year, they will get no such advantage, and Los Angeles should have the edge against San Antonio in the playoffs. The Clippers already own a home and a road win against the Spurs.
The Thunder have been able to beat the Clippers two times this season, but one of the games was without Chris Paul. With a healthy Paul, the Clippers should be able to give the Thunder all they can handle and truly challenge the defending Western Conference champions.
There are, of course, other good teams in the Western Conference, but the Clippers hold a 3.0-game lead over any of them for the No. 3 seed. With their 20-5 record in Los Angeles, it will be tough for anyone to go in there and take a series from them.