The Clippers are hardly the Knicks/Nets dumpster fire through their first 25 games. They’re not a sub-.500 bunch with a new coach working in the shadow of the old like the Grizzlies, or a sexy preseason Finals pick currently positioned outside the top 8 out West like Golden State.
Nope, the Clippers are firmly planted in the playoff picture, coming home for six of their next eight after polishing off a seven-game road trip with a win Saturday in Washington.
Chris Paul is playing at an MVP caliber, doing things that just don’t get done all that much. (Check out where Chris Sheridan has him in his latest MVP rankings).
They’re winning games, just not quite in the quantity or with the panache people like me predicted before the season began. Injuries have been a problem. Losing J.J. Redick (hand/knee) screwed with the LAC’s ability to space the floor effectively, hurt the perimeter D, and sucked some depth out of a bench already short Matt Barnes (eye).
Reggie Bullock wasn’t supposed to matter, but suddenly he did, and then he turned an ankle.
Those injuries have robbed the Clippers of vital roster balance, but not of Doc Rivers or high expectations. Getting a new group to gel quickly isn’t necessarily simple. Doc got it done with the 2007-08 Celtics, who won 18 of their first 20 en route to a title.
Conversely, the 2010-11 Heat were only 12-8 after 20 games, and the vultures were circling around Erik Spoelstra. Then Miami lost only twice in their next 20 and suddenly things looked better.
With a hair under 60 games still remaining, there is obviously plenty of time for the Clips to get healthy, start rolling and make a run at the West’s top three. It’s expected Doc will improve the Clippers defensively, something that hasn’t happened yet. LA is currently 10th in efficiency vs. eighth last season. Tough to change substantially until the roster is whole again.
Likely the Clippers continue for a little while in that weird space just below expectations, but still too good for fans to freak out or draw sweeping conclusions.
The trick is figuring out when their record truly reflects what they are this year, and if they can graduate to the level of true title contender, because they’re not there yet.
On to the rankings.