Los Angeles Clippers Q&A: A New Game in Town

Clipsnation_mediumThe Thunder face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, and you may have heard this already, but Chris Paul is pretty good. He is almost single-handedly changing the face of the franchise, and we should be in for a special treat tonight as two playoff contenders collide.

In order to get a first person perspective on the Clippers' change of fortunes, we naturally sought out Steve Perrin of the great Clippers site, Clips Nation. He certainly knows where the Clips came from so offers some unique perspective on where the team finds itself today. We took the opportunity to ask Steve a few questions about the Clippers, and his answers are here for your enjoyment and education.

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1. What is it like in Clipper-land to actually be in the thick of the season with high hopes, especially given your team's history? Thunder fans know that it was not long ago that OKC experienced a similar turn of fortune, going from a bottom dweller to knocking on the playoff door.
Perrin: I don't mind telling you, it's a little strange. We're not really used to being in first place in the division, to being on national TV so much, to getting front page coverage on the sports page. Obviously it began changing last season with Blake Griffin, who made the team a darling of SportsCenter if not exactly a playoff threat. But the hype this year is through the roof, and (perhaps unexpectedly) the team is mostly living up to the hype.

We made the comparison to the Thunder's progression around here many times. That 08-09 OKC team that opened 3-29 but then closed the season strong and you could tell something big was happening. That was the Clippers last season, opening 5-21 but finishing 27-29 from that point. Even the basic makeup of the team -- Griffin is LAC's Kevin Durant, the indisputable star, the piece that changed everything. Gordon was Russell Westbrook. DeAndre Jordan is Serge Ibaka. Of course the big difference is that the Clippers were able to put the deal together for Paul (which cost them Gordon, but was well worth it) which changed the analogy.

Regardless, it feels great if a bit disorienting to be sitting in first place a quarter of the way through the season.

2. Early results from the addition of Chris Paul & Chauncey Billups have been promising, but what areas of concern/improvement do you think still need to be addressed?

Perrin: While the team has played well and probably has more talent than any Clipper team in history, there are plenty of issues. The most obvious is front court depth. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan form one of the best big tandems in the league -- certainly the most athletic -- but Reggie Evans, Solomon Jones, Brian Cook and rookie Trey Thompkins are the reserves at those positions. Evans is useful as a rebounder, defender, energy guy. The rest? I'm not sure 'useful' is applicable in any way. The problem is compounded by the fact that Jordan, Evans and Jones (the bigs currently in the rotation) are all complete non-factors on offense. Sure, DeAndre can finish lobs at the rim, but dunking pretty much sums up his offensive game. The bottom line is, when Griffin is resting, the Clippers have NO front court scoring at all. The Thunder get by with very little post presence, but you can do that when you have Durant and Westbrook and James Harden. Then there's the foul shooting: Griffin, Jordan and Evans are all terrible foul shooters, which means that if you want to foul the Clippers late in the game, there's always a good option.

Defense is an issue as well. The team is 25th in defensive efficiency on the season, which believe it or not is a significant improvement over the first few weeks. Griffin is still learning on the defensive end, the guards are small and can get bullied, the rotations haven't been great, etc. The team has played good defense in a few big wins (Miami and Dallas come to mind) but it's a work in progress.

Some of these issues may get better with more time together. Defensive rotation, as well as a tendency to stagnate on offense, should improve as the players spend more time on the court together. The Thunder has their entire starting lineup and most of their rotation back from last year's playoffs, but you have to remember that the Clippers have three new starters (four if you count DeAndre, who was in a battle with Chris Kaman last year). Some things take time to work out.


3. What would happen in LA if the Lakers & Clippers drew the 4 and 5 seeds of the playoffs?

They would meet in the first round of the playoffs. Sheesh. You call yourself an NBA blogger. I would have thought you'd know the answer to that one.

Seriously, it would be an INTENSE series. Heck, the pre-season games between those two teams got pretty chippy, and the first two meetings of the regular season have been downright nasty -- not to mention well-played and entertaining. The Clippers would like nothing more than to defeat the Lakers in the playoffs, while you know the Lakers would be determined to maintain their dominance in the city. It would be fun. I'm not sure I could handle it. It might be better for everyone if OKC would just take care of the Lakers in a 1-8 matchup and we'll see you in the WC Finals.

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Many thanks to Steve for answering our questions. Be sure to join in the game discussion tonight and check out Clips Nation when you have the opportunity.

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