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When you mention contenders, consider the Clippers

Jan 31, 2012, 2:45 AM EDT

Blake Griffin Clippers Thunder Getty Images

Sunday night, the Clippers went into the thin air of Denver and knocked off the Nuggets, the deepest and most steady team in the West (with the second best record in the conference).

Monday night they faced a rested Oklahoma City Thunder team and ran the team to best in the West out of the building. The final score was 112-100, but it wasn’t that close. While we were all buzzing over Blake Griffin’s latest and greatest ridiculous dunk, the Clippers were making a statement.

Chris Paul is back healthy and when you start talking about teams with a shot at the title you need to start mentioning the Clippers.

“They’re the best team we’ve played all year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the thumping. “They have everything, they have a talented bench… they beat us.”

Maybe the Clippers are dark horse contenders. There are still questions about them — can you expose their lack of depth along the front line in the playoffs? Can they defend well enough in a playoff setting? Can Vinny Del Negro really coach a contender deep?

But a healthy Chris Paul — he had 26 points and 14 assists against OKC — directed the Clippers like a maestro the past two nights served notice on the league that the Clippers can play with anyone. They’re not playoff tested, but they should be feared.

Los Angeles raced out to an early lead Monday  behind Caron Butler getting good looks by finding his spots on the weak side then getting the kick out when the defense had to collapse on Paul or Griffin. Butler finished with 22 and was 4-8 from three. Both Butler and D’Andre Jordan have made the Clippers so much more dangerous by moving well off the ball and finding their spots to find good looks.

“We’re trying to see what the defense is going to give you,” Chauncey Billups said. “I had a couple looks tonight that I turned down. Caron was hot, so that was my shot but I moved (the ball) on. That’s the sign of a good team, you always want to have different guys that step up and be big. Last night (in Denver) I was rolling, tonight Caron, Chris was unbelievable, there was Blake. Look, it’s tough to prepare for four or five guys.”

The key to the game was the final 1:30 of the first half. While the Clippers had been up by as many as 15 the Thunder had cut it to 6 and seemed to have the momentum.

Then Mo Williams hit a three for Los Angeles. Williams next stole the ball from Russell Westbrook and Butler knocked down a three. James Harden missed a three on the other end, the Clippers came down and it was another Williams three. Then Durant with another turnover and that led to another Billups three. And the lead was 18 again. The Thunder never recovered.

To a man, the Thunder said it was by far the worst game they had played this season, the first clunker they have had. Westbrook and Durant combined for 67 — two thirds — of the Thunder’s points, the rest of the team shot just 38 percent. Brooks was philosophical about it and says it’s going to happen. Anyone who has watched the Thunder this season knows they can play better.

But part of their off night was the Clippers, a team thrown together before the season who are starting to figure it out.

“I definitely think we’re learning,” Paul said. “We just have to keep building our identity. We can’t say we’ve arrived after winning this game.”

  1. ferhatiggy - Jan 31, 2012 at 6:23 AM

    Clippers and championship!!i can’t stop laughing..They aren’t better than Lakers.How they can be champ?

    • wfon1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 9:58 AM

      Im a Laker fan. But I think the Clippers may be better this year. damn.

  2. dgbk - Jan 31, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    lakers arent the same lakers they are very avg…. i think the clippers and a lot of other teams in the west are better than the lakers this yr…. no need to point at success of yrs past lakers arent contendors

  3. narrabeen23 - Jan 31, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Behold the power of Chris Paul. Let’s not forget that CP3 has been carrying the Hornets to the playoffs the past few years with little to no talent. Putting Blake, DJ, Billups, Caron, and Mo around him is a recipe for devastation.

    There are 4 scary teams in the West: Thunder, Nuggets, Lakers, and Mavs. The Clippers have beaten all of them + the Heat.

    Yeah, the Clippers are officially part of the Title conversation and the best part is they are only going to get better. Sorry Laker fans hahaha.

    • wfon1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      Clippers should get some better jerseys for this better team.

  4. ihatetoneydouglas - Jan 31, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    My gut tells me these guys are gonna disappoint as the season goes on and or quietly die in the first round.I will believe them as contenders when i see it.

    • wfon1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      Normally I would agree, but Billups and CP3 are veterans and pretty consistent so that should help the rest of the team. They change everything.

  5. zer0sand0nes - Jan 31, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    There are a handful of title contending teams & it would be premature to include the Clippers etc into that group – the west is a proverbial bball war zone where playoff seeding/match ups is paramount to advancing or going home. Teams that have youth + little to no major changes to their personnel & playbook (in this ridiculously condensed season where practice time is virtually non existent), will have a huge advantage to securing unusually high seeding. However, come playoff time in a 7 game series barring major injuries the better team (or the team that’s peaked) will still prevail when the final buzzer sounds.

  6. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jan 31, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    I don’t think there’s any doubt the Clippers are title contenders. If they play Miami (my team), I think the Heat in the finals, I think the Heat would be in trouble.

  7. Justin - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    I don’t get why yesterday’s Heat/Bulls game meant little to nothing (per this site) but this game means the Clippers are title contenders.

  8. passerby23 - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I predicted the Clippers to finish ahead of the Lakers for the #4 seed at the start of the season. I still think the Mavs and Thunder definitely finish ahead of them and I had the Spurs in there too. With a healthy Ginobili, that’s still possible. It’s not hard to see, you surround Chris Paul with some talent and that’s a team nobody wants to face.

  9. hoopsmccann - Jan 31, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Maybe Justin because everyone already understands the Bulls and the Heat are the top contenders in the East. The Clippers have been the laughingstock of the NBA for 30 years. Not anymore. That is news. Picking up Billups and Butler was nothing short of brilliant.

    Now if the Lakers can get Sessions or Calderon they might be able to move up into contenders territory. But Mike Brown has to do like the NFL coaches do – hire an Offensive Coodinator!

  10. trueballs - Jan 31, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    It’s so hard to predict this teams success. When you see DJ and Griffin playing like this…plus a backcourt rotation of All-Star, playoff-tested players such as CP3, Chauncey, Mo Williams, Caron Butler…it’s hard to see this team not being a contender.

    But Griffin and DJ are not going to get alley oops every 3 possessions in the playoffs. They need a little more size coming off the bench.

    But CP3, Mo Williams, and Chauncey can get into the paint at will…that will breakdown any opponents defense.

    See, I’m already contradicting myself.

    • jjordannba - Jan 31, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      Wait Mo williams getting in to the paint at will? Are we thinking of a different Mo Williams here

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