The Los Angeles Clippers made the playoffs as the third seed going 57-25, which was also the third best record in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers allocated the best record in the Eastern Conference at 56-26. The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs went 62-20 without a starter averaging 30 minutes per game, and we all got to see a fresh veteran team win it all. The Oklahoma City Thunder went 59-23, good enough for the second seed despite All-Star Point Guard Russell Westbrook missing 36 games to injury.
The Clippers persevered through the Donald Sterling saga to advance out of the first round against interstate rival, the Golden State Warriors. After gutting out an exciting seven-game series, head coach Doc Rivers could only work so much magic in so little time. The experience OKC had gone through the past couple years, including a Finals appearance, gave them the edge as the series ended in six.
Coming into this season, there is no question that the Clippers are a top-five team in the NBA and top-3 in the West. Their offseason additions focused on depth and shooting which could slide them past the Thunder. OKC didn’t do much to improve their rotation beyond signing shooting guard Anthony Morrow. Here’s how the Clips rank:
- First in Los Angeles (head and heals above the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Third in the Western Conference (only behind the champion Spurs and Thunder)
- Fourth in the NBA (in my eyes the Chicago Bulls rank second behind the Spurs coming into the season)
In one offseason, season, and playoff run, Rivers and his staff took “Lob City” to another level. The All-Star Point duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin took on more leadership. With Paul’s improvements in shooting efficiency and Griffin boosting his points per game average by six, this team can improve from within by having another year under Rivers. If the star players bought into the new regime, you can be sure that the role players followed suit. Center DeAndre Jordan posted career highs as the leader of the defense, placing as a runner-up for the All-Star Game and as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Jamal Crawford won another Sixth Man of the Year Award. Now, the team has a pair of backup bigs to provide perimeter shooting by hanging onto Glen Davis and bringing Spencer Hawes aboard. The team also chose to move on from raw point guard Darren Collison to the veteran Jordan Farmar who has experienced success in the same building before.
Paul has always been considered an elite point guard, and it is often argued that he is in the top two. Without a doubt CP3 has been reliable without losing a step yet, but he hasn’t achieved MVP status like the injured Derrick Rose has and the guy looks great playing for Team USA. To me, that’s a toss up because there is no better orchestrator in the game today than Paul. He isn’t the defender that Rajon Rondo is, or the scorer that Westbrook is, but he ranks in the top handful in both aspects. It’s tough to find a better distributor in the league with Ricky Rubio dropping dimes on a less talented team, but Paul was the only point in the league to average double-digit assists. Considering the injuries, he has to rank at the very top coming into the season.
Griffin was a standout before Rivers came to town, but last year a monster was created and placed third in MVP voting. Moving forward, this is the franchise player — the torch has been passed from Paul and don’t expect him to look back. His mid-range game improved, both with his shooting touch and ability to penetrate to the cup. You can throw in names like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge for debate. Griffin doesn’t have the range that those guys do from the perimeter, but then again he ranked above every player in the league not named Kevin Durant or LeBron James for the ultimate award. There’s not a better finisher in the game today than Griffin, and moving forward he probably has the brightest future.
Jordan has arrived on the scene as a difference maker with his rebounding and rim protecting. Last season he also started to dunk everything, including a drop step from the mid-range baseline/short corner. He’s a top-six center along with Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, DeMarcus Cousins, Joakim Noah, and maybe Roy Hibbert.
This team will make some noise in 2014-15.