The 2012-13 NBA season is at its mid-point (more or less), and for the California Four it’s been a first half of dominance, surprise, catastrophe, and upheaval. In that order.
For more from California ,check out Mark Heisler’s latest Power Rankings. He is, shall we say … down, on the Lakers.
Time to review the action, preview what’s next, and hand out some grades…
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (32-11)
First Half Recap: In short, it has been the greatest 43-game run in Clippers history. Faint praise, perhaps, but what the LAC have done is goes well beyond “Good by Clippers standards.” This is an elite team on every level. To wit, via Hoopdata.com the Clippers are:
- 4th in offensive efficiency (107.4)
- 3rd in defensive efficiency (98.4)
- 2nd in efficiency differential (9.1)
- 2nd in point differential (8.5)
- 5th in True Shooting Percentage (55.5)
- 2nd in assist rate (22.57)
Chris Paul has a very solid case for MVP. (Ranked No. 2 on this site.)
While he hasn’t quite made “the leap” (despite leaping all over the damn place), Blake Griffin has been a rock-solid sidekick. They’re both All-Stars, and though he probably won’t make it, there is some push in some corners of the NBA world for 6th man Jamal Crawford to go to Houston as well.
Which gets to the real source of the Clippers ascendance: The bench.
Crawford is the headliner, but Eric Bledsoe is dynamic, and Matt Barnes has apparently cashed the chips he’s carried on his shoulder for an entire career for the best season of his life. This, adding a rejuvenated-enough Lamar Odom, explains why the Clips have, by leaps and bounds, the league’s best bench differential.
Depth strong like a bull, despite the near total absences of Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill.
Second Half Projection: The Western Conference currently has three teams with good odds of making the Finals. The Clippers are absolutely in that trio. They can lean on a long bench, versatility, last year’s postseason experience, and the postseason experience of some of the team’s grizzlier vets.
Plus, the play of the second unit has meant the lightest burden in the NBA for Clippers’ starters, meaning they could have a little more left in the tank for the stretch run and playoffs.
Look to the rafters at Staples Center, and there is literally no indication that the Clippers call the building home. Not a scrap of cloth, from banners to retired jerseys. As long as Paul is healthy — his knee has been acting up of late — the Clippers have a chance to change that.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (25-15)
First Half Recap: You did not see this coming. You didn’t. Just stop.
Mark Jackson has done what seemed impossible over the last three years, when the Warriors finished 29th, 26th, and 27th in efficiency: He’s made the Warriors a competent team on that side of the ball.
Not just competent, top 10 competent! (100.8 points per 100 trips), all despite getting only 73 minutes over four games from Andrew Bogut, brought to Oakland from Milwaukee last year while injured with the hope he’d eventually add stability to that side of the ball.
During a recent trip to Los Angeles, Jackson deflected attention from himself regarding the improvement. “We’ve got better players,” he Jackson said. “I think a full training camp, a full summer, makes a difference. We tweaked some things, but at the end of the day we’re a better basketball team, and we have a better understanding. We have guys tied into one another, and they deserve the credit. No matter what scheme you put forth, you have to have guys committed to each other and to the plan.”
The improvement is strong enough Jackson can claim his team has a defensive identity without causing either ROFL-ing or ralphing among Warriors fans.
Second Half Projection: Like the Clippers, Golden State has a real injury concern, as Steph Curry continues battling ankle problems. Last season, when Curry played only 26 games, the Warriors were horrible and even this season’s improved group lost both games he missed last week tending to squishy joints.
But assuming Curry stays on the floor and Bogut comes back, there’s no reason to expect a great fade from Golden State. They won’t be 10 games over .500 in their next 40 (GSW’s Expected W-L is 22-18, indicating they’ve been at least a little lucky), but won’t collapse, either. Beyond Curry, David Lee is playing at an All-Star level. Carl Landry has been great behind him, Klay Thompson’s shot is a very dangerous weapon, and Jarrett Jack has put himself square into the 6th man award conversation.
For only the second time since ’94-’95, Warriors fans will get some playoff basketball, maybe more than a round.