SBNation asks "Are the Clippers Contenders?"

Mike Prada of SBNation takes an in-depth look at whether or not the Clippers are contenders this season. He goes through a litany of issues, in a good news/bad news sort of approach. He asks some good questions -- raises some good points.

There are some misunderstandings out there that continue to irk me. You've all heard me complain about the 'point differential' argument before. I like stats as much as the next guy, and I know that point differential is a consistent predictor of playoff success. But that's at the conclusion of a regular season, when the schedules have balanced out. Less than half way through, when the Clippers have played a lot of good teams and very few patsies, it's wildly misleading to point to point differential -- at least without making some mention of strength of schedule.

Consider: Prada says this of the Clippers point differential:

The Clippers are outscoring their opponents by an average of just two points a game this year, which is 14th in the league and eighth in the Western Conference.

Well, actually, the Clippers are outscoring their opponents by three points per game, which is tenth in the league and sixth in the West. Why the discrepancy? Because for some reason he references data from February 13, on February 16.

The real point is that the Clippers total point differential is 81 points -- they've scored 2,661 points while they've allowed 2,580. In two games against the Wizards and one against the Bobcats, the Clippers outscored those teams by a combined 69 points. Meaning that the vast majority of the Clippers positive point differential comes from three wins. Which explains why the needle moved a lot between the 13th and 16th. And that's the dirty secret of point differential -- you build it up against the bad teams. The weakest teams in the Western Conference are the Hornets, Kings, Suns and Warriors. The Clippers will play those teams 10 times this season -- but they've played them once so far.

You can't single out close wins over good teams as a positive factor ("The Clippers are 8-3 in games decided by six points or less, and those eight wins include ones over the Blazers, Heat, Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz, Magic and 76ers") as a positive factor and then point to a low overall point differential as a negative factor while ignoring the overall strength of schedule. It is undeniably good to win close games against good teams -- but if that represents a large portion of your schedule, your point differential is going to be low. Those were close wins, after all.

Anyway, check out the post and see what you think. Are the Clippers contenders?

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