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ESPN--Contender or pretender: Los Angeles Clippers

3. Contender or pretender: Los Angeles Clippers (have won 12 of 14). Cavan: Pretender. Coach Vinny Del Negro's white-hot seat has cooled somewhat, but the Clippers' flaws -- inconsistent D, lack of wing punch and, well, coaching -- make them vulnerable to a first-round upset. If the season ended today, they'd be matched against sleeper darling Memphis, which probably won't be thinking too much about its 1-2 regular-season record against the Clips now that the Grizzlies are at full strength. Foster: Contender. We've seen this story before. A jump-shooting team catches fire in the playoffs as its closer wins a bunch of tight games. I'm not implying the Clippers play anywhere near the level of defense the Dallas Mavericks did last season, but they certainly have been making strides on that end lately. With Chris Paul, anything is possible. Haberstroh: Contender. For two reasons. Del Negro quietly has this team playing both sides of the floor lately; the Clippers own the NBA's sixth-most-stingiest defense in April. Secondly and more importantly, a guy named Christopher Emmanuel Paul runs the show. Vafa: Pretender. The Clippers have been impressive this season, particularly in their ability to rid the franchise of years of stigma. But when it comes to title contention, the coaching staff has to be as savvy as the roster is talented and deep. The Clippers clearly have solid talent, but depth and coaching need to be addressed before they can truly contend. Wade: Pretender. Their defense is a sieve way too often to believe that this team could reach the Finals even in a wide-open Western Conference. Plus, they are the Clippers.

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