There’s no arena in the country in which losing to the Thunder is some sort of crime, particularly when the final margin (four points) wasn’t big. Afterward, though, there was a sense the Clippers had definitely fallen behind the big boys of the West.
Not that they’re doing anything wrong, really. The Clippers sport the NBA’s fourth-highest point differential at plus-6.7, and after Wednesday’s blowout of Milwaukee have the same number of wins as Miami and OKC, despite Paul missing 12 games. At 20-12, they have among the league’s best road records, and have more victories over teams with .500-plus records than any group in the NBA. Despite concerns over the quality of their halfcourt game – a necessity in the playoffs as things slow down – the Clippers rank seventh in points per possession, via Synergy. Hardly a disaster.
Plus, they do things like this:
Still, the holes are fairly obvious, starting with any ability to generate points in the frontcourt when Griffin is out of the game, and what could be considered an over-reliance on jump-shooting and the creativity of Paul. As the OKC game showed, when Paul is off, it’s hard to drum up a viable Plan B, particularly against good competition. How they exited last season’s playoffs – swept at the hands of San Antonio – also influences people’s thinking. But no team is without flaws.
I’m sure Clippers fans feel their squad isn’t getting the respect it deserves, despite the 17-game winning streak earlier in the season and the MVP-caliber point guard. They could be right, but ultimately it’s not so much about what the Clippers aren’t as what OKC and San Antonio are. It’s difficult – not impossible, but difficult – to see them running through either or both of those teams (or perhaps Memphis) en route to the Finals.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (31-31)
Because it wouldn’t be a week in Laker Land without Dwight Howard creating some form of controversy, eyebrows were recently raised by an exclusive interview Howard gave to Kristine Leahy of KCAL9 and CBS2 in L.A. During the conversation, Leahy asked about Howard’s jovial persona – which doesn’t really exist much these days, but why kill a good narrative – and the perception his smiles reflect indifference towards winning.
This was Howard’s response:
“I understand coming here to L.A., Kobe’s here and for 17 years, Laker fans, they just see Kobe as somebody who’s serious. He seems like he doesn’t fool around or whatever it may be. That’s his personality. And just because I don’t necessarily make a [snarling face] or do all that during games or on the bench, that doesn’t mean I don’t care about succeeding or wanting to win. I always tell people, my team in Orlando was filled with people nobody wanted. And I was the leader. And I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Howard’s ex-point guard Jameer Nelson didn’t take kindly to this sentiment.
“At some point, when are you [Dwight] gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson told the Sentinel after Wednesday’s shooatround in Miami.”