It has been a role reversal in Los Angeles for the past few NBA seasons. The storied Los Angeles Lakers have sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference, while the once feeble Los Angeles Clippers have climbed all the way to championship contention. After decades of struggling the Clippers are finally regarded as one of the elite teams in the NBA.
Thanks to a 109-103 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the Clippers currently trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by two games for second place in the Western Conference. One of the main reasons the Clippers have been able to put together a record of 51-22 this season has been the play of Blake Griffin.
In his first few years in the league, Griffin faced criticism and was accused of being a one-dimensional player that could only dunk. Griffin has taken the league by storm this season, and silenced those critics. The Flyin’ Lion is averaging a career high 24.3 points on the season, while also grabbing 9.8 rebounds and handing out 3.8 assists.
Griffin has been able to consistently knock down perimeter jump shots this season, which has opened driving lanes for himself and his teammates. Griffin has also improved his free throw shooting to a career high 70.2 percent, and has become more of a force on the defensive end.
As a result of his rapid development this season, Griffin has planted himself as the third MVP candidate behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. With Chris Paul missing a good chunk of games this year due to injury, the Clippers big man has demonstrated why he put the Clippers on the NBA map when he arrived as a rookie in 2011.
Player to Watch in the Playoffs
While both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will have to come up big for the Clippers to make some noise in the playoffs this year, the most important member of the team is not on the actual roster. Head coach Doc Rivers brings an amount of playoff experience that will be invaluable to this Clippers squad.
Rivers knows what it takes to win an NBA championship as he won the title in 2008, as head coach of the Boston Celtics. The presence and leadership of Rivers is one of the reasons that Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin developed into such impactful big men for the Clippers this season.
While their regular season record may be similar to last year, as they finished the season with a record of 56-26 under Vinny Del Negro, the knowledge and experience that Doc Rivers will bring during the postseason may be the difference between making a run at an NBA title, or falling short in earlier rounds.
How Does Their Season End
The Clippers will be hoping to avoid the Memphis Grizzlies in this year’s playoff run, as they have had some hard-fought battles with them in the past, including their first round loss to them last year. Look for the Clippers to rebound from their early postseason exit last year and make a deep run to the Western Conference finals.
It is likely that if the Clippers were to make it to the Western Conference Finals they would face the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the season Kevin Durant has been having, the Thunder would edge out the Clippers in a heated six game series. Despite losing to the Thunder, it would be the first time the Clippers advanced to the Conference Finals in franchise history.
While there are favorites in this year’s Western Conference playoff race, nearly every team in the West is strong and has the potential for an upset. There is no telling what will happen this year in the wild wild Western Conference.
Commentary By Eric Kummel