It’s early in the season but not too early to see a clear theme taking shape. The Clippers are legit and clearly the best basketball team that currently occupies the Staples Center. They’ve now run off four consecutive big wins against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Hawks and Heat, with the seven point margin over the Heat being the smallest margin in those four wins. Those previous four games, like last night against the Miami Heat, weren’t really all that close.
The most impressive part of the win streak is the types of teams they’re beating, matching up effectively with all of them. The Clippers can match the Spurs bench and versatility. They can match the Grizzlies superior size and strength inside. Last night they overpowered the small-ball heat with a dominating combination of size and quickness inside, depth off the bench and versatile perimeter play. Pick your style and this deep Clippers team can match it.
Last night was another impressive step in the evolution of Blake Griffin as a complete player. When his spot up jumper is falling he’s un-defendable. If the defender tries to come out and defend his jump shot he can easily blow past any four or five in the league. Try to cover him in the post? He can easily overpower smaller bigs like Chris Bosh. Try to cover him with Shane Battier? Good luck.
Beyond Griffin several others things stood out on the Clippers side yesterday, most notably the Clippers bench. Eric Bledsoe’s block on Dwyane Wade will make all the highlight reels and rightfully so. According to Twitter Lebron called Bledsoe “Little Lebron” following his performance. Highlight reel aside Bledsoe is quickly becoming a game-changing difference maker off the bench with his phenomenal athleticism and ability to get to the rim. He provides a perfect change of pace with Chris Paul, not giving teams any break when Paul gets a rest.
Bledsoe is just part of the story when it comes to the Clippers reserves. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford have stepped up huge in recent games. The Clippers second unit has a great balance of offensive threats (Crawford), defensive stoppers (Barnes) and size and strength (Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins). Early on there were questions about how Del Negro would mold this unit together. The roles are now being clearly defined and the argument can be made that the Clippers are now the deepest team in basketball.
A couple of early losses aside when power ranking the west the argument has to be made that the Clippers are the top team. Of course it’s a long season and injuries can happen, with Griffin and Chris Paul both being somewhat injury prone in the past. Still, unforseen injury aside the Clippers are going to be a forced to be reckoned with and are real contenders—and the top team in LA. Hopefully the LA media will get off the Lakers soap opera a bit and realize the story that’s brewing in Clipperland.
As far as the Heat are concerned it’s not surprising they lost to the Clippers in LA, something they’ve done in all three years of the Lebron James Heat era. The fashion in which the Heat lost that has to concern Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. Like in Memphis and Houston on this current road trip the Heat displayed a lack of intensity on defense. The good thing for Heat fans is that the defensive intensity can be ratcheted up. The big factor that has to concern Heat Nation is the play of Dwayne Wade who just isn’t the same player. The second thing that jumped out is how another team was able to exploit the Heat’s “small ball”. Like Memphis earlier on the road trip it’s pretty clear that a team with dominant big men can exploit a lineup that sometimes employs Shane Battier at power forward. If Memphis or the Clippers find a way to get into the finals they could very well give the Heat quite a series.