The All Star break started for the Los Angeles Clippers' after their win over the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night. Behind dominant performances by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers took control in the fourth quarter for the win, assuring that they would be in first place in the Pacific Division at the All Star break for the first time ever.
For the first time ever. This is going to take some getting used to, folks.
It's worth noting that in this strike shortened season, in which the date of the All Star game was not changed, this break in the schedule falls pretty close to the midpoint of the season. The Clippers have only played 31 games, but most have played at least 33. In a normal, 82 game season, games before the All Star break are often referred to as the "first half of the season" and those after as "the second half", despite the fact that the season is closer to two-thirds complete by the time of the break. But this year, it really does break the season into halves.
So the All Star break came a bit earlier than usual relatively speaking, and maybe that diminishes the Clippers' "first place in the Division at the break" accomplishment a bit, but it's still a milestone in the sad history of the franchise.
By some strange coincidence, for the past 20 years or so, the few times the Clippers have been better than usual, the Lakers have always been worse than usual. So in 1992 and 1993, while Larry Brown was leading the Clippers to their only back-to-back playoff appearances, the Lakers were suffering through the post-Magic years, when Sedale Threatt was one of their best players. Then in 2005 through 2007, the Clippers were amassing some talent just after Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson had left LA and the Lakers were looking like a mess. But even those few times when the Clippers were a little better than the Lakers, some other Pacific Division team (usually the Phoenix Suns) was still a lot better than either LA team.
This is different. Sure, the rest of the Division outside of LA is kind of a mess. But the Clippers have the third best record in the Western Conference, so it's not just that other Pacific teams are down. The Clippers are up -- way up.
It's no secret why that is. The Clippers have always lacked a true superstar, a player the team could really build around, a difference maker. Suddenly, in Griffin and Paul, they have not one but two. The team is not without faults. The defense is still suspect, the shooting guard position is shaky and the bench can be an adventure. But the team goes into the break with a 20-11 record that maps to 53 wins in an 82 game season -- and they haven't reached their full potential yet.
We probably need to try to avoid getting spoiled and just try to enjoy the ride. We're at the midway point, and the Clippers' longest losing streak so far this season has been two games -- yet we now lament every defeat as inexcusable (OK, yes, that Spurs loss was difficult to excuse, I'll admit). But we need to keep our perspective. In the course of Clippers history, most years a two game losing streak was like a winning streak. No winless weeks and we're at the All Star break? The winless week was all too familiar occurrence around these parts. If you haven't lost three straight all season, you must be doing something right.
We'll find out a lot about the team in March. They play 20 games in 31 days, starting off with a six game road trip. The good news is that the difficult first half schedule they played will balance out a bit -- for instance all of the team's meetings with Sacramento and New Orleans, the two worst teams in the West, come after the break.
It's definitely an adjustment for the Citizens of Clips Nation, rooting for a first place team. But I have to say -- I'm beginning to get used to it.