Clippers' Path to Winning NBA Title May Not Be Only a Fairy Tale for Much Longer

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMay 11, 2015

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Long-suffering sports devotion can be so uninspiring that it's endearing.

Sad-sack supporters of the Chicago Cubs or even the Sacramento Kings at least get a certain amount of that kind of credit.

The Los Angeles Clippers, though, have never been lovable losers.

They've just been losers…and even before owner Donald Sterling revealed himself unequivocally as loathsome to the masses, Clippers fans knew their leader was shameful and just tried their best to ignore it.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

So now that we've reached this point—when the Clippers can fairly exhale for a moment with a 3-1 second-round series lead on the Houston Rockets and rightly grin when looking around the NBA playoff landscape with favored teams from Golden State, Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta truly vulnerable—not many people are stopping to be happy for Clippers fans.

Well, whatever their shadowy reasons for sticking with a struggling club over the years, Clippers fans don't have to fool themselves right now.

Their path to the NBA title is wholly realistic.

Besides now getting three chances to close out the Rockets after a 128-95 victory Sunday, the Clippers, in what would be their first-ever Western Conference Finals, can envision meeting the Memphis Grizzlies instead of the Warriors.

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The Grizzlies lead their series against the top-seeded Warriors entering Game 4 in Memphis on Monday night. And the Clippers' shaky pedigree would be offset by Memphis' own novelty: The Grizzlies' only West finals appearance was a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs two years back.

May 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) blocks a shot by Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center.  The Clippers defeated the Rockets 128-95
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

According to Vegas Insider, Golden State is still expected to win it all, but the Clippers even before routing Houston on Sunday were the same 5-to-1 next-best bets for the title as the Cavaliers or Bulls (and now sit at 4-to-1).

This is getting real.

And just to give the long-suffering even more pep in their step, here's more hard truth that is uncommonly warm:

Winning this particular NBA championship would be transformational for the Clippers.

To win the very year after the team banished Sterling would be a story for the ages. It'd feel like good over evil. As new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer rightly told Bleacher Report before the season, there is an inherent lean to "root for this team based upon the fact that people in America aspire for the place to be better than the environment these guys were in."

For the Clippers to win this title would galvanize that feeling into something memorable in only a positive way. It would count far more than your average championship, which is certainly what the Clippers need to build their fanbase.

Even with the Lakers staggering in Kobe Bryant's final years, the Clippers are nowhere near being noticed in the surf, sand and celebrity cycle of Southern California's films, freeways and football hope. That recent Twitter NBA fan map showed the Lakers owning more U.S. counties than any other team…and the Clippers being the only franchise owning none.

May 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer in the second half of game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Clippers won 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As good as the Clippers have been for a while now, they need massive change. They now have Ballmer, America's wealthiest sports owner, to fund the pursuit of legitimacy, in addition to Doc Rivers, who beat those Lakers to win the 2008 NBA Finals.   

But covering the Lakers' championship banners inside Staples Center during Clippers games is one thing. Winning your own is another.

Being acceptable is good. Being embraceable takes much more.

This season is an awesome opportunity for the Clippers to kick-start massive change where it really matters: on the court.

It might take the Warriors' jump-shooters being worse than DeAndre Jordan from the foul line, and it figures to require J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis and Austin Rivers to be flat-out better than expected (especially on defense) in the coming weeks.

But the possibilities are becoming clear.

As valiant as Chris Paul's effort and winning shot were to sink the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the opening round, his reputation isn't changed yet. Even if he advances past the second round for the first time in his career, Paul won't fully register as a winner unless he has a crowning moment.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 10: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks against the Houston Rockets in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2015 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The same goes for the Clippers…except two billion times more.

They didn't win their first playoff series in L.A. until 2006.

If they now win their first championship fewer than 10 years later—right after leaping racism in a single Blake Griffin bound—all of a sudden they look like specialists in change.

And in today's marketplace, we want to believe quick change is possible.

As much as long-suffering Clippers fans know the struggle, there's reason to believe right now.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

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