Closing The Gap

Posted by By at 4 February, at 11 : 01 AM Print

The Clippers share the same town and arena as the Lakers. Generally, that’s where the comparisons end between the two. As league doormats for many years I’ve found myself wondering on a few occasions if there were years where a Duke, North Carolina, UCLA, or Kansas team might give the Clippers a run for their money in a game or better yet beat them. After being cursed by injuries and poor draft picks the Clippers might be finally on the right track to building a respectable NBA franchise. Yes I did just use the words “Clippers” and “Respectable” in the same sentence.

This season started with more promise and optimism than any season I can remember for the Clippers. There were even whispers of them being a possible sleeper 7 or 8 seed in the Western Conference. After a 1-13 start many people, myself included, reverted back to the good old “here we go again” cliche. It got so bad that team owner, Donald Sterling, began to heckle his own players.

Since November 22nd the Clippers have gone 18-16. That mark is better than two of the three teams ahead of them in the standings in the Pacific Division. The Warriors have gone 13-21 and the Suns 17-17 over the same span. Okay, so their mark is only one game better than Phoenix, but it is better right?

After being in Vinny Del Negro’s dog house to start the season Baron Davis seems intent on showing everyone that he’s still a top tier point guard. Amazing what having your job handed to a rookie will do for you motivation isn’t it? While shot selection has never been on the positive side of Baron’s scouting report you can see marked improvement here and a willingness to get the other weapons he has at his disposal involved.

Eric Gordon is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch play, and no it’s not because his last name is Gordon. After averaging 16ppg his first two years in the league, he’s stepped up this year to 24ppg, which currently has him eighth in the league. He’s developed an almost Dwayne Wade like ferociousness in attacking the rim, which is why he’s out injured at the moment, but I’m not going to hold that against him. After averaging a little over 4 free-throw attempts per game before this season, his 7.2 attempts per game this year have him sitting just outside of the top 10 at number 11. Combine that with a career high 4.5 assists per game and it looks like the Clippers have an outside threat to pair with Griffin for the next 10+ years.

Prior to November 22nd DeAndre Jordan did not have a single game with 10+ rebounds. Since then he’s had eleven, including a 20 board game against the Nuggets on January 5th. Throw in 2 blocks per game and his 67% from the floor and he’s making the loss of 2010 All-Star Chris Kaman not look like much of a loss at all.

It seems fitting that Blake Griffin’s first NBA points came on a dunk. His highlight reel is already as impressive as anyone’s in the league. He’s even caused me to use the word “Mozgov” as a verb, as evidence by my last post. But his game is evolving into more than just dunks.  In his brief 48 game career you can see his game growing leaps and bounds (no pun intended). Just last night I watched him pull a move on Taj Gibson that would’ve made Hakeem Olajuwon proud. Earlier in the season you could see he was relying more on raw athletic ability, but now you can see evidence of a true low post game starting to develop. An underrated part of his game has been his ability to pass out of double teams. It’s a good thing he’s picked up on that because it’s going to happen alot from here on out, like for the rest of his career. He’s already had 10 games this year of 6+ assists.

Leading the Bulls to two straight playoff seasons proved that Vinny Del Negro can be a solid NBA coach and he deserves credit too. After being all but fired by the media after the poor start he’s found a solid rotation and is sticking with what works. He’s always been known as a “no nonsense” coach, as evidence by his promoting Eric Bledsoe to the starting point guard position earlier this season and relegating Baron Davis to the bench. Players seem to be responding well, so it looks like management may have their coach for the long haul.

The thought of the Clippers equaling the Lakers in terms of popularity in the NBA and their home town isn’t going to happen anytime soon and probably never will. But it finally looks like they have the pieces in place to start building towards playoff contention in the very near future. Due to their poor start and a top heavy western conference they will probably finish with a record under .500. The optimist in me says that their 19 wins is already equal to their win total of the 2008 season, 4 shy of their 2007 season and only 10 shy of last year’s total. If they can get over those hurdles then I would be willing to call this season a success.

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