I had to laugh recently when I read Chris Paul's comment, as reported by the Orange County Register. He was asked if tonight's game against the defending champion Miami Heat was a measuring stick for his upstart Clippers.
"I guess. They're the defending champs. I don't see why not," Paul said. "But we're in a pretty good position right now. It's more about us and not other teams. We're good enough to play our game and beat whoever."
Then he switched to stand-up-comedian mode and said, "(They're) obviously very talented," he said, "but we don't suck."
For the first time in a very long time, that's actually true. The Clippers don't suck! They proved it by being the only team (thus far) to beat the Memphis Grizzlies. They proved it again by toying with a dysfunctional Laker team and then once again by handing the Spurs their first loss of the season.
On the heels of all that proof come the defending champions.
Now, early on I called the game against the Lakers a "must-win". As silly as it seemed to pull out the "must-win" card so early in the season, I felt it was true. A loss against the Lakers when that team came into the season with such high expectations could have been the beginning of a bad spiral for the Clippers. It certainly would have been the start of the "Clippers are overrated" comments.
Of course, they took care of the Lakers, so now what about the Heat? Surely this has to be another "must-win", right?
The Clippers are no longer a secret. They still don't get the respect they deserve, but no team is taking the Clippers for granted. A loss to the defending champs will not change that.
This game promises to be entertaining and a test to see how this squad does against another elite team, having already meeting and soundly disposing of the Spurs, but the true test comes over the next ten days. After the Miami Heat the Clippers host the 4-3 Chicago Bulls then go on a ridiculous road trip. They will battle the Spurs, who no doubt will want a little payback, then the OKC Thunder, the resurgent Brooklyn Nets and then the Atlanta Hawks.
The next ten days will tell us for certain if this is indeed an elite team or just another pretender. It all starts tonight against the most elite team in the Association.
Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, regularly has his team focus on the single game at hand. "One game at a time" has become his mantra and proven to be pretty successful for him and the Halos. I'm not saying the Clippers should look past this game, that would be foolish and a recipe for a Heat beat-down, but instead I'm pointing out that in the bigger picture, success over the next ten days will trump success tonight.
No, the Clippers no longer suck and a victory over the Heat tonight should surprise no one. A winning record over the next ten days however will go a long way to securing their place as an elite NBA team.
The Clippers don't suck! The Clippers don't suck!