For this season the Clippers have been better than the Lakers across the board, and with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, they may finally have the best player in Los Angeles. Photo by Ken Brooks
For decades the Lakers have owned Los Angeles, but this year it has been the other way around. Photo by Ken Brooks
By Robert Gillard
Sentinel Sports Writer
The NBA’s Pacific Division was won a few days ago, and, such has become practically routine, it was won by Los Angeles. But for the first time ever, it was claimed by the Staples Center tenant without all the championship banners.
This season has been full of firsts for the Pacific-winning Clippers. There was the 17-game winning streak, the first time the franchise won that many games consecutively. There was the recent victory that gave them 50 in a season for the first time ever (the Lakers have done that 32 times). Then on Sunday, the Clippers killed two birds with one stone, completing a season sweep of the Lakers, for the first time ever as the Los Angeles Clippers, while securing a division crown. A far cry from the Clippers of old.
So far have the Clippers come from their long history of league obscurity, that the recent milestone was marked with t-shirts that read “Can‘t Stop Los Angeles.” Clearly, expectations have changed for this team. While acknowledging this season’s accomplishments thus far, several Clippers’ players said they have adopted the mindset that this is something they’re supposed to do.
How about that? The Clippers are supposed to be one of the hottest tickets in the NBA. They’re supposed to win the division. They’re supposed to dominate the cross-town rival that was recently valued at $1 billion.
It is this kind of mentality that will serve the Clippers well in the postseason. It has to. A team with little drama for most of the season has seen a swell in recent distractions.
First, there were the rumblings about team chemistry, specifically among Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Reports surfaced that Paul was pushing the young big men too hard. Anyone who watches Paul play knows that he’s a true floor general, and one of the best the league has. In someone who’s contract ends after the season, and whose decision on whether to return is largely influenced by how well his current team goes this postseason, it’s understandable that Paul would bark at his teammates to give their all if he feels they’re coasting.
Then there was the report that a wedge was growing between Griffin and Jordan, who are said to be the best of friends. Allegedly, the rift became noticeable in a game at Sacramento last month, when the frontcourt mates exchanged words on the bench over not passing the ball. However, Griffin recently said that this never happened.
If this sort of hyper-scrutinization and over-examination seems like unfamiliar territory for the Clippers, it is. But it’s also the exact kind of stuff the Lakers have weathered as L.A.’s hottest team.
As the Clippers head into their final few games of the regular season, they face the realistic possibility of entering the playoffs seeded third, and as a division winner they can be no worse than fourth. Against the teams they could possibly face in the first round -- Memphis, Denver, Golden State and Houston -- the Clippers are 6-7 this season. Most likely they will play either Memphis or Denver, who have both been playing better than the Clippers since the All-Star break. Winning out would go a long way in pushing them into the third spot, and home court advantage in the first round, but if they are the fourth seed, and the fifth seed has a better record, then the fifth seed gets home court advantage. So finishing strong is of great importance.