As the curtains of the Lakers’ worst season close, all eyes shift toward the Los Angeles Clippers. Rather than fold under the pressure of a spoiled basketball city, the Clippers are determined to win a championship. Despite the recent alleged racist remarks of owner Donald Sterling over the weekend and dropping game four of their series versus the Golden State Warriors, the Clippers are equipped to win with the big three of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the now-rising star in DeAndre Jordan. They have a solid shooter in J.J. Redick, as well as Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison who has no problem coming off the bench. To top it all off, they now have a veteran commander in Doc Rivers, with the experience and the hardware to prove it. Although the Lakers have been crowned champions 16 times, the Clippers now have the limelight as they muscle their way toward a championship. Here’s how they’ll do it.
The Brain: Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers coached the Boston Celtics prior to his tenure with the Clippers. He directed the Celtics to an NBA championship title, two NBA finals appearances and three conference championships. When a team gets a coach of this caliber, several intangible changes occur. Free agents’ eyes are drawn toward the team and fans marvel at the potential of winning a championship. Rivers has brought this along with a change of the team’s culture. One way he does this is by keeping everyone from nine-time all-star Chris Paul to backup-center Ryan Hollins accountable. Each and every player is expected to play his part, and will be called out if he doesn’t. Other changes include slowing the Clippers’ offensive pace and a strict rotation of players as well as use of his incredible play-calling skills. Although Vinny Del Negro coached the team to new heights last season, the championship pedigree of Rivers places the Clippers into another stratosphere.
The Hands: Chris Paul
Point guards are essential because they create shots for their team through fakes, passes and by scoring some points themselves. Chris Paul executes this for the Clippers. He led the team in assists with 9.3 per game and steals with 3.67 per game as well as putting up 18.3 points per game. He has achieved all this despite missing 18 games from a separated shoulder. Paul has shown his loyalty by playing with a bothersome hamstring and a fever in game three against the Golden State Warriors. This year, he also broke the 6,000 career assist mark, playing the Detroit Pistons. Paul joins the exclusive club of players in the NBA to reach 6,000 assists before the end of his ninth seasons, including Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Norm Nixon and Oscar Robertson. Paul is the engine that keeps the Clippers running. If he is playing well, they’re hard to beat.
The Arms: Blake Griffin
He’s the hardworking, relentless super athlete who dunks too often. Fans love it but critics are quick to point out his poor jump shot and free-throw percentage. Two years ago, he shot 52.1 percent from the free-throw line and 25 percent in 10-15 feet shots. Then with a little help in the offseason from Coach Bob Tate, who is known for aiding Jason Kidd’s jump shot in Dallas, Blake’s game improved. His free-throw percentage is now at 70.5 percent and his 10-15 foot percentage is 39.65. Griffin is transforming into one of the best forwards in the league. This season he had a 30-game streak of 20 or more points. Due to Chris Paul’s shoulder dislocation, Griffin had more chances to be aggressive and carry the team. The Clippers’ record was 22-8 during this time. From 2008-2009, only three players have had longer streaks than Griffin: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James. Griffin’s improved post-up game and shooting allows the Clippers to have a consistent and legitimate low post threat coupled with Paul’s perimeter game.
The Body: DeAndre Jordan
Rivers predicted that the explosive center DeAndre Jordan would be the defensive player of the year. This is why he gave him the defensive captain title shortly after the two met. As bold of a statement as that is, Jordan came close as he finished third after Chicago’s Joakim Noah and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. He tallied 13.6 rebounds per game, came third in blocked shots (2.48), a career-best 10.5 points per game and even led the NBA in field-goal percentage. He also finished fifth in the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award voting. Jordan, 25, leaped over his opponents with a career-high 42 double-doubles in points and rebounds. Not only was he a defensive and offensive machine, Jordan was a healthy player. He started every single game this year, tallying up 237 regular season starts, which is currently the longest streak in the NBA. No matter how great a player is, if they aren’t healthy, they aren’t contributing. Jordan makes sure he helps his team win by taking care of his body and being a formidable presence down low.
The Legs: The Bench
The greatness of the trio of Griffin, Paul and Jordan is supported by a team effort from the rest of the Clippers. The combination of shooter J.J. Reddick, sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford and former all-star Danny Granger have contributed toward making the Clippers championship contenders. The developing point guard Darren Collison averaged 11.4 points per game and averages 37.6 percent from behind the arc. Collision is versatile as he can play either the point guard or the shooting guard. He’s able to shoot threes, drive in paint or pass the ball. Jamal Crawford was also a scoring machine with 18.6 points per game, shooting 36.1 percent in three-pointers. Both Crawford and Collision have the skill set of a starter, but do not mind coming off the bench. This benefits the team by creating less conflict when Rivers takes them out of the rotation after a starter returns from an injury. They are role players who then turn into role models by gaining the respect and trust of their teammates.
Why they are going to win:
The Clippers are currently in the number three seed in the Western Conference. Using the new system Rivers instilled, they have made it to the same place in the tournament as they were last year — only this time, they can potentially win the championship. They have the coach, they have a big three and a solid bench. Paul has the vision to create and make plays. Griffin has the athleticism to score from anywhere on the court. DeAndre Jordan is a powerful defender and can score down low. Redick is a sharp three-point shooter plus Crawford and Collison can score off the bench. The improvement of Griffin and Jordan puts their game on par with CP3’s level of play. The added arsenal of shooters now allows Paul to distribute the rock when the post is doubled. The shooters also give the two big men more space to work the paint. Only time will tell if the Clippers permanently steal LA’s basketball spotlight, but from the looks of it, they are well on their way.