Power Rankings: Preseason edition

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The NBA season begins tomorrow, and those who have been reading his site regularly know where I stand on the Clippers (unconvinced) but probably didn’t know I am higher on the T-Wolves than probably anyone not named Glen Taylor, and I am so down on the Eastern Conference that I have filled spots 25-30 with them in the inaugural SheridanHoops power rankings. Feel free to express your admiration, grief or grievances in the comments section, and you can look forward to a new set of rankings (with accompanying mea culpas and told ya so rundowns) every Sunday morning. Click on the read more button for the unveiling.

RANK TEAM THE RUNDOWN LAST
1 BULLS(62-20) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. LAL
Why No. 1? Because they were one player away from being a complete team, and they got exactly what they needed in Rip Hamilton. They will play at the Staples Center twice before they play their first home game, and they open with 20 of their first 30 on the road — so staying in this perch won’t be easy. They had the NBA’s best record last year, and they’ll need to go 50-16 to top last year’s winning percentage.
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2 THUNDER(55-27) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. DAL
Kendrick Perkins, when he was in the East, had the reputation as one of the few guys who could stop Dwight Howard. We shall see Christmas evening whether that still holds true, but the key game is the 29th vs. Dallas because those are the guys who ended Kevin Durant & Co.’s season — and it comes on the second night of a back-to-back that begins with a game at Memphis (a revenge game for the Grizz).
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3 HEAT(58-24) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. DAL
They won’t have to deal with Tyson Chandler defending the paint, and they won’t have to find a way to stop sparkplug JJ Barea. That means they get to concentrate on stopping Dirk Nowitzki, which LeBron James has shown himself capable of doing. Win the finals rematch, and they can end a 4-0 week (games vs. Boston and at Charlotte are Nos. 2 & 3) before traveling to Minnesota on the 30th (forecast: 36 degrees) and teasing Ricky Rubio that if he thinks this is cold, just wait another 4 weeks, cuz it sure ain’t gonna be like balmy Barcelona (or South Beach).
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4 GRIZZLIES(46-36) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. OKC
Why are these guys ranked ahead of the defending champs? Cuz I have them pegged for the Western Conference finals against the Thunder in what will be a breakout year that will show how small-market teams can indeed compete under the new CBA. They will measure themselves (with a healthy Rudy Gay) against Western Conference teams in eight of their first nine games, and they have only one back-to-back prior to Jan. 20-21. And yes, Dante Cunningham can fill Darrell Arthur’s shoes.
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5 MAVERICKS(57-25) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. MIA
Their first eight games are all back-to-backs, beginning with the NBA Finals rematch against the Heat when the relative worth of Brendan Haywood and Rodrigue Beaubois (not to mention Vince Carter) will begin to be assessed. By the second week of January, who’ve you got as the new starting center — Ian Mahinmi or Sean Williams? Only six months and seven days until “We’ve got the most cap room” becomes the catch phrase of hope in North Texas. In the meantime, they’re still good.
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6 SPURS(61-21) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. LAC
See that record from last year? You forgot about that, didn’t you. You also might not recall that Manu Ginobili hurt his wrist in the 82nd game when the king of resting players, Gregg Popovich, should have been resting Manu. They will get to measure themselves against most of the West by playing 12 of their first 13 against teams from their own conference, and nine of those will be home games. An as much as some are lamenting the loss of Gary Neal’s 3-point shooting, he only had 77 of them last year. Rookie Kawhi Leonard can duplicate that.
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7 MAGIC(52-30) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. OKC
Whether or not they win on Christmas against the Thunder, they should go 8-0 after that before facing the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 6 — assuming, of course, that they don’t send Dwight Howard to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol (an offer that will forever trump anything NJ/Brooklyn can put on the table, even after Brook Lopez recovers from the stress fracture in his foot). Two players who MUST have bounce-back years are Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson had the most uninspiring preseason of anyone who wasn’t waived.
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8 CELTICS(56-26) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. NY
Let’s see, Rajon Rondo was on the trading block when Chris Paul was still a Hornet. Think that bothers him? Yup. Nenad Krstic is playing for the only undefeated team remaining in Euroleague. Think he misses sitting on the end of the bench as he did in Boston’s last two playoff games? Nope. Jeff Green is out for the year. Big Baby is gone. Paul Pierce has a sore heel. The tempation here is to rank them below the Knicks, but I am showing respect — a lot more respect than the oddsmakers who have made them 5-point underdogs vs. NY in the opener.
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9 KNICKS(42-40) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. BOS
That opening day game vs. Boston will set the tone for the season. Last year, they ‘Bockers were 0-8 vs. the men in green. This year, they have a center — Tyson Chandler — who will anchor what is arguably the best front line in the NBA. Point guard and shooting guard are the weak spots, and Mike D’Antoni added three shooters, Steve Novak, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis — who all have mileage, injury and confidence question marks. He needs 3s in his offense, and the play of Toney Douglas will be a key in whether they start the season strong. Over/under on Rondo’s assists in the opener is 12.5.
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10 LAKERS(57-25) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. DEN
Yes, I have them ahead of the Clippers. Why? Because I am not a drama king, and I believe there is a middle ground between panic and euphoria. That’s one reason why I don’t live in L.A. The key game is against Denver because that’ll be their first game with Andrew Bynum, whose suspension was reduced from 5 to 4 games. And those two preseason losses to the Clippers? C’mon, it’s preseason. They’re definitely weaker than they were a year ago because of the appalling Lamar Odom trade, but we haven’t even gotten to Game 1 yet and I still believe when all is said and done, Dwight Howard will be playing here by season’s end. Also, I am big believer in Mike Brown, who got a raw deal in Cleveland.
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11 BLAZERS(48-34) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. DEN
Yes, I have these guys ahead of the Clippers, too. The reason why, in a word: depth. Ray Felton is an upgrade over Andre Miller, Nicols Batum is my Most Improved Player choice after I saw him blossoming at Eurobasket in Lithuania (he was a stud for LeMans in the French League, too, during the lockout). They open with three winnable home games, then measure themselves vs. the Clippers in L.A. Jamal Crawford is a huge pickup, LaMarcus Aldridge will finally get his All-Star recognition, and Gerald Wallace was the steal of last year’s trade deadline (maybe that’s why Michael Jordan hired Rich Cho).
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12 SIXERS(41-41) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. GS
They open with five road games in the Western Conference, four of which they should win (their opener vs. Portland is a toss-up). Game 4 of the season is the key game of the week because it comes on the second night of a back-to-back. Their top 7 players are all very good, the Spencer Hawes acquisition was a quality move that flew below most people’s radars, and if Jodie Meeks spent the lockout perfecting his 3-point stroke, look out, because Doug Collins has himself a sleeper team again.
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13 CLIPPERS(32-50) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. CHI
Derrick Rose will be the guy checking Chris Paul in the home opener Dec. 30, and Joakim Noah will be the guy drawing three quick fouls against DeAndre Jordan, after which we can judge the relative merits of Brian Cook as the backup. I love CP3, I love Blake Griffin, I love Chauncey Billups. But that’s as far as I am taking it. I am lukewarm on Caron Butler and Mo Williams, and there is little else here besides unrealistic expectations and alley-oops. NOT DRINKING THE KOOL-AID.
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14 ROCKETS(43-39) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. ATL
It wasn’t bad enough that David Stern, Stu Jackson and Joel Litvin ruined their master plan. Scheduling maven Matt Winick did his part, too, giving them a back-to-back-to-back ending on New Year’s Eve against Atlanta, and seven of their first eight games are against teams that made the playoffs last season (the eighth is against the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back).
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15 NUGGETS(50-32) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. PTO
We shall see about the wisdom of trading Raymond Felton for Andre Miller, who George Karl never got over losing after he was traded for Allen Iverson. This is another sleper team, with Danilo Gallinari due for a breakout year and Rudy Fernandez capable of being the NBA’s Most Improved Player (he may be competing with Timofey Mozgov for that award). When they get Wilson Chandler back from China in March, they’ll overtake the Clippers — if they aren’t ahead of them already.
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16 HAWKS(44-38) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. HOU
When you open against the Nets, Wizards and the Nets, anything worse than a 3-0 start is no bueno — especially when the following week brings five games in six nights, four of them against the Heat (twice) and Bulls (twice). If Jerry Stackhouse and Tracy McGrady both stick around through the end of January, I’ll be shocked. Neither provided anything in the preseason.
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17 WARRIORS(36-46) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. LAC
Four in a row at home to start, but none are easy. That is why starting with a W over the Clips is so important, because the Bulls, Knicks and Sixers are the next three visitors. After that, they play 7 of 10 on the road. Oh yeah, I hated the Kwame Brown signing more than any single other offseason move by anyone not named David Stern. But he’d still crack the Clips’ top 7.
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18 WOLVES(17-65) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. MIL
This is the part of the rankings when the committee (of one) has to start giving props to teams that went 2-0 in the preseason. Ok, so they only beat the Bucks, and Stephen Jackson did not play for Milwaukee. Over/under on when Ricky Rubio replaces Luke Ridnour as the starter: 13 games.
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19 BUCKS(35-47) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. CHA
The game against the Bobcats is such a key because Milwaukee could actually gain a head of steam and open 3-0 before heading West for five road games in seven nights. Andrew Bogut’ health and Stephen Jackson’s attitude (with no contract extension seemingly forthcoming) are the two biggest factors. Might take 2 years to undo the mistakes of the 2010 offseason
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20 PACERS(37-45) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. DET
This is the lowest they may go in the rankings all season, and it should not surprise anyone if they open 4-0 with Detroit, Toronto and Cleveland their first three opponents before the key Dec. 31 game against the Pistons, which is the one referenced above
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21 HORNETS(46-36) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. BOS
Jarrett Jack gets to measure himself as a starting PG against Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, then Nash again. If NOLA wins both against Phoenix and upsets the Suns, I will endorse Stu Jackson as Executive of the Year in next week’s rankings.
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22 KINGS(24-58) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. NY
Winnable game New Year’s Eve vs. the Knicks, who will be on last stop of three-game trip and looking forward to ringing in the New Year at 36,000 feet aboard Jim Dolan’s charter jet.
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23 SUNS(40-42) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. NO
Marcin Gortat is playing with a broken right thumb. How long can that last? Christmas means only 27 more weeks until Knicks have full MLE available for Soho resident Steve Nash.
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24 JAZZ(39-43) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. LAL
Get Lakers on third night of LAL’s three-games-in-three-nights start. GM Kevin O’Connor says ownership told him to be aggressive in using $9.9 million Okur trade exception.
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25 PISTONS(30-52) LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. CLE
Went 1-1 vs. Cavs in preseason, so they know they are capable of beating them. Low ranking is public invite for Lawrence Frank to call me out.
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26 WIZARDS(23-59) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. NJ
JaVale McGee vs. Mehmet Okur/Johan Petro could yield season’s first triple-double with blocks. Rare example of a team that could actually be better with Yi Jianlian.
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27 BOBCATS(34-48) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. MIL
Good news: Two of first five vs. Milwaukee, Cleveland. Bad news: Other three are two vs. Miami and one vs. Orlando. Kemba Walker is my ROY guy cuz there will be buckets to be had here.
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28 RAPTORS(22-60) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. MIA
Ranked 28th, they open against a lower-ranked team. And Jonas Valanciunas got abused by Jerome Jordan in a EuroCup match. At least Jose Calderon has a Jamon Iberico connection.
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29 CAVALIERS(19-63) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. TOR
Sam Worthen laughs at them.
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30 NETS(24-58) LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. ORL
Deron Williams will be the reward in next summer’s epic Mark Cuban vs. Mikhail Prokhorov blood match
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  3. Wow at these comments. I’m surprised my Wizards are so “high” on the list. They lack so much and leave a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the ball (rebounding, rotations, playing smart, etc).

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  5. ChrisDon'tKnowMoiso says:

    There is no reason that the Nets should be 30th? They have a SUPERSTAR PG leading the team. Don’t tell that doesn’t account for anything. They’re worse than the Raptors? Really? Bobcats? Cavs? Wizards? Sir, I can see very clearly why you were fired from ESPN and this excuse of a website to amuse all the fans. We all see your biased as ish against the Nets. Admit it, and never confuse anyone into thinking you know anything that your writing.

  6. Consistant with the comments here. The Nets at 30 is pathetic. Your reasoning is atrocious. I can see why you are no longer with ESPN.

  7. Not a Dumbass like Chris says:

    This site is a joke.

  8. To be fair Chris, Stephen Jackson played in Milwaukee’s second preseason game, scoring 7 points in 15 minutes.

  9. I’ll say it again, but there is no way you can convince me Rip Hamilton makes the Bulls anywhere close to Miami’s level. Miami beat the Bulls 4 straight times! 4! Not 1, not 2, not 3….

    Miami’s added another solid wing defender in Battier, and they will still have Wade or Chalmers to chase Hamilton around. And still, it’s Richard Hamilton! The guy will be 34 in February and hasn’t shot at a decent field goal percentage since 2009.

    The talent gap is still too vast between Miami and the rest of league. People like me who despise Miami will just have to hope Lebron disappears again. Otherwise, it won’t be close

    • S. Sebastian says:

      You might be right and your view is consistent with most media types. However, don’t assume that Bulls players and OKC players for that matter aren’t getting better, because they are. D Rose, Taj and Jo will be better than last year.

      Although it makes sense that the Heat are picked by most to win it all, they lost in the finals to a team playing a zone defense. There are still flaws with this combo of players for some reason. Unless they address this, they are vulnerable, even to the Bulls. And Rip doesn’t really have to score in volume, he just needs to be a legitimate threat and run the floor. This will open up high percentage shots for others. If the Bulls dominate the boards as they should and are more efficient on offense, they will have a great chance to win the title.

  10. LOLLLLL

    So obvious why Sheridan got fired.

  11. S. Sebastian says:

    The compressed season is a key factor here. Your top ten really reflects the fact that teams that can perform with limited practices will have an advantage. Continuity and depth will be big keys for the top teams.

    The Bulls and OKC are ready now.

    Memphis may have the most balanced team in the league. Z-Bo is underrated and finally playing within a team context. Look for Rudy Gay to show the world that he can be the guy to give the team what it needs. Lionel Hollins will keep this team in position to win. So, I agree they are in the top four. Along with the Mavs, these are the teams that can win the title this year.

    The Heat, have two MVP candidates and an All Star with some good defense minded role players and a couple shooters. You have to beat them.

    Outside of your top ten, teams have guys that need to learn, gain experience, develop chemistry etc. There just won’t be any time to do that. Except, the Clips will will win a lot of games. CP3 is that good.

  12. JEROME MOISO says:

    These rankings are absolutely terrible, a testament to the putrid “journalism” of Chris Sheridan. Celtics at #8? Their window has closed, much like the window for this becoming a successful website. You were canned at ESPN for blind homerism, even when you were writing for ESPN New York. Your career is a joke, this website is a joke and looks like it was made via templet in an HTML class at a county college. The only reason anyone even knows this site exists is either because they’re here to make fun of you, or they fell for your hilarious promises about the lockout. ESPN employs the likes of Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard, but drew the line with Chris Sheridan. Let that marinate for a minute before you take anything he says seriously.

  13. Chris you clearly are a nets troll. Even without Lopez they aren’t much worse than last years Hornets. Dead last? Find a new day job bud

  14. NETS at 30??? LOL…….This is exactly y u lost ur job sheridan….i am just laughing at how ur hatred for one team left u jobless!!!!

    • The Nets’ season starts in two days. The player who is replacing the injured center was expected to arrive last night. The starting power forward has been in camp three days. The two most expensive free agent signings have totaled three practices. Happy holidays, Nets.

      That is from Fred Kerber of the New York Post. He ain’t too high on them either.

      • Just saw former mothership has Nets 19th. Now THAT is something worth commenting on.

      • To believe they are gonna struggle is one thing, but to put them DEAD LAST in the NBA is just ridiculous and reeks of both ignorance and irrational hatred. Deron Williams alone is worth more than Charlotte’s whole putrid roster, for instance. You are taking it to a whole new level.

      • Not a Dumbass like Chris says:

        so you think that they wont adjust? ur basing a 3oth rank off the fact that they havent practiced enough?
        1. that applies to every team
        2. how much longer is it until they get a few practices under their belt and that argument is no longer valid?

      • Fred Kerber? New York Post?

        Are you even trying, Chris?

  15. Grizzlies 4th best team in the league? Sorry, not going that far. But at least you’re not ignoring the Bulls like everyone else.

  16. Chris Bernucca says:

    Folks,

    Apologize for some of the HTML glitches. They appear to be worked out now and should be clean going forward. (Thanks Memphis Mark) As for the comments, we encourage disagreement. You might wanna lighten up on the personal stuff, unless you want coal in your stocking. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Safe travels. CB

  17. Iberian ham! Great reference.
    And I appreciate the tempered expectations for the Clippers. So many other rankers are already planning a ticker tape parade.

    • Gracias, Orion. Or “grathias” if you are from Barcelona. The Spanish players in the NBA all look forward to their trips to Canada. If Iberian ham was available in the U.S. for less than $100 a pound, Hormel and Oscar Mayer would be out of business in a year.

  18. Let me guess. You don’t like the Nets? Jelousy perhaps?

    • They were my favorite team until I was 11. I was an ABA fan. Then Roy Boe sold Dr. J., and my fanship ceased soon thereafter. But I do not hate them. They just stink, and they have for two years, and they just lost Lopez to a broken foot, hence the No. 30 ranking. If you go back a couple posts, I actually lauded Billy King for his quick move to get Okur– and get him on the cheap.

      • Not a Dumbass like Chris says:

        Your still a dumbass. lost all credibility in my eyes, and it doesnt take a nets fan to tell you that, im sure a Bobcats/raptors/pistons/cavs/wizards/hornets/jazz/kings fan will tell you the same.

  19. Wolves at 18. Nets at 30.

    Sense. This makes none.

  20. Extreme bias and obvious team hate. Nets dead last? You need to work on your professionalism before making these articles.

  21. Your dislike for the Nets is so blatant it really isn’t funny. Do you seriously have the Nets below the Cavaliers , Pistons, and Bobcats?

  22. Randy Oreens says:

    This is exactly why Chris Sheridan got fired, how does a Bobcat team get a better record than a team with Deron Williams? We know you dont like the Nets, but Chris this is awful.
    If I had an ESPN writer power rankings you would be last because you got fired. Hey Chris face it your small time now and Knick fans even hate you. You kept saying stuff about the lockout to get people to come to this website that looks like it took you 2 minutes.

    Chris you dont know basketball, face it.

  23. That Jazz ranking is way off. We’ll win 25 games at least, and more importantly, Derrick Favors will be a 20-10 guy by season’s end, if not sooner. That’s still lottery bound, but with the Okur trade exception, GSW pick, and our own lotto pick, this team will be damn good next year.

  24. Brook Lopez did not injure his hip, he has a fracture of his 5th metatarsal on his foot.

  25. memphis mark says:

    Chris, thanks for giving us in Memphis respect. Four is pretty high. We’ll see. Please however put the Grizz logo in the 4th spot and take down the Heat logo. They’ll be getting all the attention soon anyhow.

  26. Utah last in the West???????? No stars but legitimately 10 deep in a compacted schedule. Although adding 2 more lottery picks to an already talented young squad wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…

  27. Well at least you now admit that the Clippers are a playoff team. Next up: Admitting the season won’t start on time. ;)

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