The LA Clippers just knocked off the LA Lakers to raise their record to 17-13. Respectable, to be sure, but in the whole scheme of things, just a little better than average. Yet the Clips have a problem. Actually two of them.
The first pertains to their competition in the NBA west. No one would seriously doubt the Golden State Warriors remain far and away the class of the field. A 28-1 record pretty well speaks for itself. These guys are so good they can run on autopilot. In other words, they don't need a head coach. Indeed, Steve Kerr has long been out rehabbing a back problem while novice Luke Walton has been subbing for him, yet their beat rolls on.
Coach Pop and his Spurs down in San Antonio remain a standard of excellence. They might not win it all every year -- nobody does -- but when it comes to smarts and the execution of overall team play -- nobody does it better than the Spurs. Their lofty 25-6 record is no accident.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are quite good as well. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook headlining the show, the Seattle Supersonic transplants can light it up in any given game. Or they can get beat. 20-10 is an admirable record, but they made a huge mistake when they let point guard/playmaker/shooter supreme James Harden get away in free agency to Houston a couple years back.
The point is the Clips remain a second-tier team in the NBA west. Good, but not great. Few would consider them championship contenders this year. Everybody knows who Chris Paul is. If they didn't before, they certainly do after having been force fed a bazillion TV spots featuring him and his "twin" brother Cliff hawking an insurance company.
Thing is, despite all the hype, Paul and the Clips have never even made it to a conference finals series, let alone sniffed a championship. The second round of the playoffs seems to be their ceiling. In all likelihood, barring a rash of serious injuries on other teams, the very same fate would seem to be in store for the Clips this season. They might squeak by the Thunder in the playoffs, but no way are they good enough to get past the Spurs -- must less Steph Curry and the Warriors. Ain't gonna happen.
[Idle thought. Anybody heard a peep from former Clips owner Donald Sterling lately? Maybe be bought a tropical paradise somewhere with the ridiculous $2 Billion Steve Ballmer ponied up for the basketball team, and is having his every whim catered to by an army of beautiful young women. A private island and a few billion bucks normally tends to attract a horde of gold diggers. Here's wishing him well but, please, let us all pray he spares us the videos of his latest sexual escapades. Eww.]
[Idle thought II. I wonder if Ballmer displayed the same spaz tendencies when he was a hot shot exec at that software company? Have you seen him dance at Clipper games? This is not funny. It's pitiful and painful to watch. How can a guy supposedly so smart act so stupidly?]
So OK. Regardless of dubious ownership, I think we can pretty much agree the Clippers won't be going to the NBA Finals this year either. They have four really good players on their entire team. After that, the talent level drops off dramatically. Lack of depth/bench is a fatal flaw when trying to run the formidable gauntlet of the playoffs. Doc Rivers may or may not be a great coach, but even he can only "take the whip" to the thoroughbreds down the stretch for so long before they run out of gas and break down short of the finish line.
Nevertheless, the Clips are vastly superior to the woeful Lakers. As we know, they not only play in the same town, but share the same arena -- Staples Center.
[Idle thought III. I bet it gets old for the arena crew to keep changing the playing surface to either feature the Clippers' or the Lakers' logos and colors. Wouldn't it be a lot easier, much less hassle, and cheaper, to settle on a hybrid that acknowledges both?]
But that's where the Clippers evidently have their other problem. In their own home arena. While squaring off against the Lakers (who were technically the "home" team), the fans in attendance made it quite clear who they were rooting for. It wasn't the Clips.
Despite the fact the Clips have at least been semi-competitive in recent years (it started with Sterling) while the Lakers have become a laughingstock, Doc, Chris, Blake, Deandre, and even the spaz still find themselves getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment in their own building.
Oh yeah. The Clippers definitely have problems.