The first came from Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who was very impressed.
“That is the best team we’ve played,” said Gentry, whose club has faced Miami, Memphis, New York and Golden State but has yet to play Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
“They’re deep, they’ve got all the ingredients to be a championship team,” he added. “They’ve got a great leader in Chris Paul, a tremendous player in Blake Griffin, they’re deep off the bench, they’re very good defensively, they’re very athletic. Don’t know a weakness that they have, really.”
The second came from Suns center Marcin Gortat, who may have picked up on something that his coach overlooked.
“They’re playing show basketball with the alley-oops and the fancy passes,” Gortat said. “They can afford to turn the ball over a few times.”
In December? Sure.
But not in May and June, when the season really begins for elite teams like the Clippers.
Right now, no one is playing better than the Clippers. While detractors point to the fact that they have played teams with a combined winning percentage of .402 (127-189) during their streak, it should be noted that they have won those games by an average of 15.7 points.
The Clippers are clobbering opponents, and they are doing it on both ends. During the streak, they have scored more than 110 points four times and have held foes to 85 points or less seven times, including their last five.
Overall, the Clippers are plus-6 on the road win-home loss ledger, one of colleague Mark Heisler’s favorite metrics. On offense, they lead the league in scoring margin at 9.6 points, rank second in assists at 23.3, second in fast-break points with 17.8 and fourth in points per shot at 1.26.
On defense, they are second in opponents’ field goal percentage at .424, first in turnovers forced at 17.4, first in steals at 10.7 and seventh in blocks in 6.5. They are one of just six teams whose steals and blocks outnumber their turnovers, and their margin of 2.6 is by far the biggest of any team.
So Gentry’s words have considerable merit. But so do Gortat’s.
With all of their talent and athleticism, the Clippers get careless, even sloppy at times. They solo too much, often settle for jump shots and throw way too many lobs, giving away possessions. They shoot free throws poorly and lead the NBA with 38 technical fouls, giving away points.
And in May and June, you cannot do that and expect to advance. There were 84 games in the 2012 postseason, and a staggering 35 of them were decided by six points or less, or two possessions. Twenty of those 35 were decided by three points or less, or one possession. And of those 20, seven were decided by a single point.
DeAndre Jordan is among the game’s most impactful defenders. Can he improve his shaky free-throw shooting enough to stay on the floor?
Blake Griffin is an unstoppable physical force. Can he resist the temptation to fire 20-foot jumpers?
Chris Paul has the best combination of skill and competitive fire of anyone not named Kobe Bryant. Can he show the patience to not try to do it all by himself?