By the time the Clippers host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night, their 4-2 record will have already passed its landmark. But they can’t overlook that the gap between themselves and all their recent rivals is closing.
The Clippers began the season hot, winning five straight, six of their next seven and coming off a 17-game winning streak against Washington and Oklahoma City. They’re also tied for first in the Western Conference with a 29-13 record. If not for an MVP-caliber performance from six-foot-11 power forward Tobias Harris (21.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists) during a six-game, 23-point win streak against Western Conference opponents, they’d be within striking distance of the No. 2 seed in the East.
But let’s face it: They’re losing. The addition of guard Patrick Beverley and the development of Davis Bertans–formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks–in the summer, plus a healthy and improved Chauncey Billups–who’s been a reserve for several games this season–have eroded the advantages they’ve built up. Plus they play in a city that’s called awful for a reason. No one seems to like basketball in L.A.Related LaVar Ball Should Be Kicked Off No. 4 Posting, Right?
Yet. Finally, after running out of talented young talent and a serious reliance on the luck of the draw, the Clippers have found a semblance of stability that never existed when Sterling bought them out last summer. Now they have an ability to win around 25 games over their next three seasons without spending so much money that they must spend the next three years trying to accumulate more. In May, the team had signed DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Lou Williams, Eric Bledsoe, Nemanja Bjelica, and Caron Butler to free-agent contracts, putting them on pace to win 35 games. This past month, they’ve put themselves in position to even win an NBA title at 25 wins (which would still get them two rounds of the playoffs).
Overall, the Clippers are not a bad team, on paper. They just have to go get more wins, and the past three weeks have been a disappointment. They’ve allowed a significant advantage in points per game and shots per game to fall to their lowest levels of the season. Over the past three games, the Cavs, Lakers, and Blazers have scored 83, 76, and 74 points per game, respectively. Their run differential in all three games is negative, which isn’t great for any team, but the Clippers are now second among East teams for the lowest overall points differential in any of the three weeks of the season.Vanity Still Rules: Dwyane Wade Reveals He Once Had A Kid During A Family Dispute Over LeBron James
Interestingly, one major thing holding the Clippers back–and the reason for their struggling play–is the play of their core players, at least prior to the offseason. Jordan, at age 30, was just 19 last season and has been the NBA’s best center over the past few years. Second in the league in points per game and steals for the second year in a row, Davis, a second-year player, and Wiggins, a fourth-year player, have been very valuable young players who are still getting better and will need time to adjust to the speed of the NBA.
So for now, the Clippers have a solid, if not perfect, season. This is obviously a team with far too much talent to have a best-of-five Finals series. They may just struggle again next season. Until then, though, they’re on their way.Related USA Today’s LeBron Jeffrey Scott Predicts LeBron’s Future at the Miami Heat