Despite the hype surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers since acquiring Chris Paul during the pre-season, they were really not the favorites coming into the opening of the 2012 season. Not even the two pre-season victories they had over their co-tenant Los Angeles Lakers were enough to dismiss the notion of cynicism against them. And that’s just normal, since the true test of their mettle comes when they finally face the giants on the court during the season.
After 9 games, they’re finally living up to the hype.
Just now the Clippers earned a 102-94 win over their co-tenants in Staples Center, with Chris Paul dropping 33 points on a 12-for-22 shooting, with three of them coming from the long distance area. Kobe Bryant scored for 42 points, the fourth night he’s been scoring 40+ points, but even that wasn’t enough to overtake the Clippers, who are now 6-3, goog enough for third in the standings, while the Lakers snap their five-game winning streak, earning a 9-5 win-loss card which puts them at 5th spot.
The other night, the Clippers beat the Miami Heat in overtime, 95-89, behind the performance of Paul’s 27 points, along with Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups, who each scored 20. Their win over the defending Eastern Conference champions was the first true test of the Clippers’ credentials on paper. And then this, a win over the team that has made them for many years “the other LA team.” At least, for the time being, they’re showing the basketball world that they’re not just any other team that should be sidelined and dismissed.
Nonetheless, they still have a long way to go. This is just the Clippers’ second win over a top-contending win in any given conference. Their three previous losses have come from the hands of the Portland Trailblazers (105-97), Chicago Bulls (114-101), and their biggest loss so far, to the San Antonio Spurs (115-90), teams that are standing atop the list.
But one thing’s for sure: the Clippers are slowly finding their way up the ladder, among the great contenders of the West.
And, in the heart of their fans as well.
Eight games ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were humbled by the cellar-dwelling Cavaliers at Cleveland with 104-99 defeat, the third consecutive loss before All-Star Break. Three weeks ago, Kobe Bryant was awarded his fourth All-Star Game MVP Awards. Seven games ago, the Lakers began a seven-game winning streak, starting with Atlanta, 104-80.
Six hours ago, they clobbered the league-leading San Antonio Spurs, 99-83.
Talk about hot.
What ended as a 16-point endgame lead for LA actually blew up as big as 32 at one point. As early as the first quarter, the Lakers have already outscored the Spurs 34-13. The Spurs only outplayed LA in the fourth quarter with 31-18, but it wasn’t enough to trim the Lakers’ lead to a single digit. Among the Lakers, Kobe lead all scorers with 26, followed by Pau Gasol with 21. Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown scored a combined 27 points to lead LA’s bench.
As for San Antonio, only Tony Parker scored with double digits at 14. In fact, the starters’ performance were so poor, their combined points are only equivalent to the total points of Gasol (with 21) and Artest (with 8).
Just two nights after routing the East-contending Miami Heat with a 125-95 win, the Spurs were given a dose of their own medicine after the Lakers jumped to an early lead in the first quarter. They also outclassed San Antonio in the assist department, 26-14. The Spurs also fumbled the ball more times than LA, 10-6.
We can go on analyzing statistic after statistic. But the job of saying who’s the best in the West gets easier if you take it straight from the Spurs.
“…They (Lakers) are the best team until you take their title away. I think we always look at it that way. When we step on the court with the guys who have won two championships in a row, until you take that title away, they are the best team.” according to Antonio McDyess, in a blog post by Fran Blinebury. Coach Gregg Popovich also had this to say about LA, “… I think they deserve the respect for that and until proven otherwise. That will convince me, when somebody beats them four out of seven (in the playoffs). Then I’ll believe they’re not the best team in the West.”
With 18 games left in the season for the Lakers, they admit it might be hard to catch up with San Antonio in the standings. But like San Antonio, LA knows that championships are not won by having the best record at the end of the regular season. By the end of 82 games, someone will still have to defeat the Lakers in the playoffs. And if no one in the West gets to beat LA, someone from the East will still have to defeat them to take the title away from them.
Until then, the Lakers are still the best.