We watch almost every game, so we know it's true. There's really no good reason for it, and yet there it is. After four months of passionless play, the Clippers we've been waiting for have finally arrived on the scene.
|© Henry Chen, all rights reserved|
The Clippers are, simply put, playing consistently well for the first time this season. And it's not just the four game win streak. It's really the last eight games, since the beginning of the road trip. I facetiously surmised after the Spurs game that the progression of Spurs-Clippers scores indicated that LA would win the next time they played. Of course it doesn't work that way, but after the Utah game, I'm not so sure that I'm not correct.
The difference in the team really can't be overstated. For four months, the Clippers simply could not compete (at any rate did not compete) with good teams. From November 9 to March 11, they won three games against teams with winning records: Houston without Yao and TMac, Miami without Shaq and DWade, and Chicago without Ben Wallace. No lie.
Moreover, they didn't just lose - they got embarrassed. 88-103 at DEN, 88-97 vs. LAL, 82-111 at SAS, 81-103 vs. SAS, 74-88 vs. SAS, 90-112 at UTA, 86-105 vs. UTA, 92-102 at UTA, 83-115 at DAL, 105-116 at WAS, 92-104 vs. CLE, 77-94 at CLE, 74-92 at DET, 80-98 vs. DET... Against good teams, double digit losses have been the norm all season.
And most disturbing of all, the body-snatcher Clipper team we watched for four months was giving up in those games. They fell behind in the first quarter, and never really tried to fight back. Or maybe it was a second half run that did them in, or some bad calls... whatever it was, there was a time in most of their losses when you saw them shut it down.
Which is why I say the change in attitude started in San Antonio and Houston. The way the Spurs had dominated the series this season, it would have been easy to give up on that game before it started. To battle them into the final quarter was a major breakthrough. Then in Houston, to fight back from a double digit deficit in the fourth and take the lead in the final minute was HUGE. Earlier in the season, there's no question that game would have been over when the Rockets made 9 of their first 11 shots and took a 25-9 lead.
Apparently Bugs found MJ at the baseball field and together they got the basketball skills back from the aliens, because suddenly the Looney Toon Clippers have beaten three quality teams in the last week. Three wins against winning teams in a week compared to three in four months. And all three of these teams were relatively healthy! It's not our imagination; something is definitely different. Or rather, something is finally the same - the same as last season.
I had forgotten until recently, but last season's team actually felt like a pretender for much of the year. They were 33-25 on March 5, 2006. That's a tidy 8 games over .500, but they opened the season 14-5. Their record from early December to early March was 19 wins, 20 losses. Blecch. Over the same 39 games this season? 18-21. Even March and April remained a bit of a roller-coaster. The home win over the Spurs on March 7 was great, and was followed by two road wins. But then they lost at Phoenix by 31, and it felt like smoke and mirrors again. "Are they really able to compete, or have they just caught some teams napping?" It wasn't until back-to-back wins against Denver and at Phoenix on April 4 and 5 that I realized they were really and truly for real (really). (The Denver game was a second half comeback from 20 down and the Phoenix game they pounded the Suns from wire-to-wire.)
So if this current surge continues into April and the playoffs, credit MDsr for having them ready to play when it really matters. Or blame him for letting them dog it for 4 months. But either way, the Clippers have a chance to go into the playoffs with as much momentum as last year's team, believe it or not.