In advance of Sunday's national TV game against the Knicks on ABC, I got a chance to hit up former NBA All Star Antonio Davis of ESPN's NBA Coast-to-Coast crew with some questions about the Clippers, the Knicks, and the NBA in general.
Steve Perrin -- The Clippers are in the midst of the most successful season in franchise history and show well in many statistical categories, rating highly in both offensive and defensive efficiency for example. Yet they still appear to be a notch below the Thunder and the Spurs in the Western Conference. After losing to the Spurs in the second round last season, would another second round exit be perceived as an unsuccessful season for the Clippers, even if they could reasonably claim to be the fourth best team in the league?
Antonio Davis -- If the Clippers lose in the second round, I feel it will be an unsuccessful season and as good as they are they will have to rethink their team from a standpoint of do they have enough to get to the Western Conference Finals. Two things stand out for me in looking at their team that cause concern. Vinny Del Negro doesn't have a lot of playoff coaching experience. When you look at the playoff teams in San Antonio with Popovich, who is arguably the best coach in the NBA and Scott Brooks who has coached in the WC finals and the NBA finals, Vinny has the least amount of experience. The Clippers style of play worries me in the playoffs! Teams like San Antonio and OKC will not allow the lobs and transition game they thrive on. Will the Clipps be able to slow down and execute when needed?
SP -- I'm not impartial of course, but I can't at this point come up with any reasonable scenario that sees Chris Paul signing elsewhere as a free agent this summer. All reports indicate that Paul will probably re-sign, but beyond that, can you think of any situation in which he would not? Is there any destination that has the cap space to sign him and a situation even remotely as attractive as his situation with the Clippers? What is the best case scenario for Paul other than the Clippers?
AD -- I can't think of another situation that would make sense for CP!
SP -- Were you as surprised as everyone else seemed to be that Serge Ibaka was not suspended for his low blow on Blake Griffin? What possible explanation could Stu Jackson have for letting Ibaka off with just a fine when many seemingly less egregious plays have been met with suspensions? Does the NBA have a credibility problem when they behave so inconsistently?
AD --I was very surprised Ibaka was not suspended! Especially after D-Wade was suspended for what looked like an accident! The NBA is often criticized for their handling of such situations and nobody can figure out how and why they choose to give out penalties the way they do. I'm sure that after they look at the act, talk to the referees and players, they have a better assessment of the situation and are able to make a decision based on their findings. The inconsistency comes from taking all that information in instead of just looking at the situation and just administering a penalty.
SP -- The Knicks opened the season 18-5; since then they are barely above .500, which is much more in line with pre-season predictions for the team. Is there a comprehensive explanation for this huge difference? Injuries? Amare Stoudemire throwing off their chemistry? Defense? Or is it just the law of averages catching up to them after some unsustainably hot three point shooting in the season's first six weeks?
AD -- I would definitely say injuries to Ray Felton, Carmelo and adding Shumpert and Amar'e has screwed with chemistry! Early on they were great at moving the ball and getting their shooters wide open looks. Now they seem to let JR Smith, Melo and Raymond dominate the ball and this style of play kills Tyson and guys like Steve Novak. It makes them easy to defend. The good teams don't allow them wide open looks! The question, will Carmelo ever lead a team to a championship or consistent winning with his style of play?
SP -- The Jazz are in free fall and it looks like the Lakers will probably make it to the postseason (depending in part on the status of Kobe Bryant's ankle of course). Should the Lakers be feared in the first round or are they just fodder for the Spurs or Thunder?
AD -- I don't think they would be a threat to either team. The issue with their bad transition defense will hurt them against OKC and their bad half defense will hurt them against the Spurs! They are not deep enough, they don't defend and what are they going to do with Pau when he comes back?
On another note, Fodder to describe the Lakers is hilarious!!
How about that? An NBA All Star thinks I'm hilarious. He has that in common with my mom.
I want to thank Antonio for taking the time to answer these questions. It's always great to hear from an expert.
I'd like to think that the Clippers season would not be perceived as unsuccessful with a second round elimination, but that's the thing about perceptions -- I don't really control them. The "problem", such as it is, is that the Clippers made it to the second round last year, so exiting in the second round will be viewed as stagnation by many. Of course, a team can go out in the second round as the seventh or eighth best team in the NBA (as the Clippers probably were last season) or as the fourth best team in the NBA (as they probably are this year), so progress can still occur even without further postseason advancement.
Of course this all ignores the question of how they actually play. A hard fought second round series, say taking the Thunder to seven games before succumbing, would certainly be viewed differently than last season's sweep at the hands of the Spurs. And of course the Clippers could very well advance past the second round.
Thanks again to Antonio Davis and ESPN.