Los Angeles Clippers: Are They A Western Conference Powerhouse?

Off to their best start in franchise history, are the Los Angeles Clippers on their way to becoming a Western Conference powerhouse?

The Los Angeles Clippers aren’t usually one of the first teams that come to mind when discussing the elite teams in the Western Conference. Sure, they have star power with players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the roster.

But despite all of the talent they have, the Clippers haven’t exactly excelled when it comes to postseason competition over the past few seasons. For starters, they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games in the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs.

The following year, the Clippers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and their average margin of victory in those three wins was 24.6 points per contest. Unfortunately, the Rockets stormed back to take the series in seven games.

Last season the Clippers experienced more postseason heartbreak as they were bounced in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, largely because of Paul and Griffin succumbing to injuries.

Fast forward to the present, the Clippers came into this season almost as an afterthought. After all, there is this new-look Golden State Warriors squad who added Kevin Durant during the offseason to help bolster their chances of notching a third consecutive Finals appearance.

Additionally, how would the San Antonio Spurs fare without Tim Duncan on the court for the first time in 19 seasons? Could the Thunder still be in the playoff hunt without Durant, and would the Minnesota Timberwolves catapult into the postseason conversation under new coach and team president Tom Thibodeau?

With all of these varying storylines unfolding, it is understandable why the Clippers were not a main topic of conversation.

In spite of the lack of attention they have received, though, the Clippers are letting their play do the talking for them. They currently hold the best record in the league at 7-1 following convincing wins over the Spurs, Blazers and Detroit Pistons.

Along with that, the Clippers lead the league in points allowed, giving up a stingy 88.2 points per game. They have the best defensive rating of any team in the association, allowing just 91 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference.com.

Furthermore, the Clippers are also the top-ranked team in opponent field goal percentage, limiting their counterparts to just 43.4 percent shooting from the field — very impressive numbers to say the least.

Although the Clippers have a number of capable scorers, Griffin believes that one of the reasons for the team’s early success has a lot to do with playing well from a defensive standpoint.

From Rowan Kavner of NBA.com:

“I was talking to somebody on the bench, maybe it was at halftime, and it’s like, ‘When you play defense like that, it’s fun,’” Griffin said. “You look forward to getting stops. Guys are just flying around, might make a mistake, but somebody’s covering up for you, then somebody’s covering up for them covering up for you. When you’re playing basketball like that, it’s a blast.”

“The second unit has done an unbelievable job, especially defensively of just buying into the principles,” Griffin said. “Ray (Felton) just absolutely dogs the ball, every time, and makes it tough to even start the offense.”

That defense that Griffin affectionately referred to has helped the Clippers enjoy halftime leads of 18, 29 and 30 points, respectively, in their last three contests — effectively allowing the starters to rest during the fourth quarter.

Whether the Clippers are able to maintain this type of defensive intensity remains to be seen. For the time being, however, they are a team that none of us should sleep on.

And maybe, just maybe, with a little bit of luck, the Clippers will finally secure that conference finals appearance that has proven to be so elusive in years past.

I did say maybe.

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