Los Angeles Clippers: 8-1
From here on in, it is all untrue. No pretenders. No”if a few things go right” aspirants. No”maybe, only perhaps” hopefuls.
Real contenders only.
The Clippers, by virtue of being mentioned after that introduction, are just one such contender.
Free of the shadow cast by Donald Sterling and imbued with the terrifying excitement and deep pockets of fresh owner Steve Ballmer, the Clips will look to lock up a top-three seed from the West again. This time, tough, they will hope to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The majority of the responsibility falls on the recognizable shoulders of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two players who may easily lead the Clips to another No. 1 finish in offensive efficiency. With Doc Rivers’ direction and (hopefully) another measure from DeAndre Jordan, L.A. is in great position for another deep playoff series.
There are concerns.
The wing positions are weak behind J.J. Redick. Matt Barnes is supposed to start in the 3, and at age 34 there should be real concerns that his 4.2 percent (yes, 4.2 percent) shooting from long range during the preseason is not as a blip and more a signal his offensive game has fallen off a cliff.
Spencer Hawes was the group’s big offseason get, and as valuable as he is as a passer and floor-spacer, he won’t scare anybody on defense.
If the offense remains elite and Rivers may handle his frontcourt rotation wisely, the Clippers might be slightly better than they were a year ago. That may be sufficient for them to reach heights they’ve never attained.