My gut (backed up by some reasonable statistical evidence) tells me that based on their body of work on the season, the Clippers are about the fifth best team in the NBA to this point. Two teams in the East (the Pacers and the Heat) and two teams in the West (the Thunder and the Spurs) have distinguished themselves as the top four; the Clippers are probably next.
Certainly the Heat have had their issues, but they're the two time defending champs and they've shown that they can turn it on even after seeming disinterested for a time, so you can reasonably ignore some red flags in the data with them. On the other hand, while the Blazers have been ahead of the Clippers in the standings all season, the gap there is closing, while the statistics are beginning to clearly favor the Clippers. The Clippers now even have a better point differential than the Blazers.
And as it happens, this week in Power Rankings, the Clippers are inching toward that rightful five spot. That they've improved their position among the pundits even while Chris Paul has been out is quite remarkable. Bear in mind -- I think the Clippers have shown that they're the fifth best team in the league so far -- but they're also going to be better after the All Star break than they have so far. Well they improve enough to get into the mix with the big four? We'll see.
Interestingly, despite a 3-1 week on the road, the Clippers failed to make huge gains in the various and sundry empirical measures. So for instance the offensive numbers were great, but the defensive numbers were bad enough that the team's net rating is exactly the same, 6.0 points. Even so, because Portland is slipping down, the Clippers are now ranked fifth or better in all of these empirical measures save for the fickle winning percentage.
The average ranking for the week (after tossing out the highest ranking and the lowest ranking) is 5.3..
|ESPN.com||Marc Stein||6||Everyone knows Blake Griffin is leading the way, but don't ignore Jamal Crawford's contributions. He's averaging 22.1 points since Chris Paul's shoulder injury, compared to 16.5 PPG before, setting L.A. up for a 5-2 finish to its Grammys road trip if it can win Monday night at Milwaukee.|
|Yahoo.com||Marc Spears||6||Lost in Terrence Ross' 51-point game against the Clippers was Jamal Crawford totaling 37 points and 11 assists.|
|CBS Sports||Matt Moore||4||They're crushing teams without Chris Paul. Maybe they have more going on here than it seems.|
|SI.com||Matt Dollinger||5||When Jamal Crawford is on, he's one of the top offensive players in the league. He dropped a season-high 37 points and added 11 assists off the bench in Saturday's win over the Raptors, essentially canceling out Terrence Ross' once-in-a-lifetime 51-point performance.|
|Pro Basketball Talk||Kurt Helin||4||Los Angeles has gone 4-2 on the Grammy road trip (with a winnable game left in Milwaukee) and done it without Chris Paul. Their offense has been on fire. This stretch was when the Clippers could have struggled and fallen back, that they didn't is a good sign about this team's growth.|
|NBA.com||John Schuhmann||5||Since Chris Paul's injury, the Clippers have ranked second in offensive efficiency. Blake Griffin (25.4 points and 4.9 assists per game) has been huge, but they've also been shooting the lights out. Four of the five guys who have attempted at least 20 threes in the 11 games have shot them at better than 40 percent. The defense hasn't been good, but Wednesday's loss in Charlotte was their only real hiccup.|
|NBA.com||David Aldridge||N/A||No rankings this week|
|SB Nation||Jason Patt||6||The Clippers have been humming right along with Chris Paul sidelined, posting an 8-3 record since the star point guard went down with a shoulder injury. Los Angeles can thank Blake Griffin, who's averaging 25.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists in January.|
|Sheridan Hoops||Brian Kamenetsky||N/A||No rankings this week|
|USA Today||6||DeAndre Jordan shoots 67.9% from the field with Chris Paul on the court, 59.0% without.|