The season opener is tonight, but before then let's take a look around the league to see what others think of the Clippers heading into a year where they hope to finally ascend the mountain.
While there's still some debate over the Clippers in media circles, it's pretty much consensus at this point that they're a true title contender. The only question for many is who should be favored over them. They're found as high as #2 only to the Spurs, but other outlets have also put them behind the Cavaliers... and even the Bulls. We'll see how public perception changes after the first week or so of games.
|SB Nation||Drew Garrison||2||
Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers get to put Donald Sterling behind them and set their sights on taking the Western Conference crown from San Antonio. Griffin's development is key to the Clippers' standing as a strong No. 2 to start the year. Rivers laid the foundation last season. Now, let's see if they can build upward.
The negatives: there's still a noticeable hole at small forward, and losing Darren Collison -- who did a good job of filling in for Paul last season -- hurts.
|ESPN||Marc Stein||4||Dominique Wilkins earned nine All-Star selections without reaching the conference finals. Yao Ming did it eight times. And now Chris Paul, with seven All-Star nods and zero trips to the NBA's final four, is moving up on a list he surely hates being on. Let's see if CP3, with the help of Blake and Doc, can finally get off it.|
|CBS Sports||Matt Moore||—||N/A|
|Yahoo!||Marc Spears||4||The Clippers will play their first regular-season game in the post-Donald Sterling era on Thursday vs. the Thunder.|
|NBA.com||David Aldridge||2||When you work with Neal Brennan, you're going to come up with some funny stuff. And CP3 and Blake Griffin do ...|
|NBA.com||John Schuhmann||3||Here's a team that really needs to flip the switch. The Clips ranked 29th defensively in the preseason and were the league's worst rebounding team. They still have questions on the wing, where Matt Barnes shot a brutal 1-for-24 from 3-point range. Good news: they play eight of their first nine games at Staples Center and don't leave California for three weeks.|
|Sports Illustrated||Matt Dollinger||3||Poking holes in the Clippers is like trying to come up with nice things to say about Donald Sterling. With Doc Rivers at the helm and Chris Paul running the show, the Clips are as big of a threat as anyone to challenge the Spurs' throne. L.A. will need big contributions from its reserve bigs (Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu) to get over the top.|
|Pro Basketball Talk||Kurt Helin||3||Another team that had a rough preseason, but it won't matter when the games get real. The one preseason concern worth watching is the Clippers didn't rebound particularly well, if that carries over it can be trouble. L.A. needs a big season out of its bench bigs (we're looking at you, Spencer Hawes).|
|USA Today||Conglomerate||4||What difference will the exit of Donald Sterling make? On the court, this team is very similar. The Clippers were the third-best team in the West last season, and here they come in third in the conference to start this one.
Simultaneously underrated and overestimated in the past, the Clippers might finally be fairly regarded by national consensus. They've resolved most of the doubts and flaws plaguing them in recent years — now they have the superstars, the depth, the coaching, and at last the ownership.
Previous playoff runs were marred by inexperience (2012), injury (2013), and bad breaks (2014), but now they're in their second year as a true title contender, with perhaps the best team in franchise history. All that's left are the results — will they take their place among the greats, or will history remember them as an also-ran looking up at generational competition?
|Bleacher Report||Josh Martin||4||
"We have proven that we're not a good rebounding team," head coach Doc Rivers said during the preseason. "We have to be a great rebounding team, and we can be that. We have to be better at it, but that's our No. 1 issue to me."
It won't be L.A.'s only issue, not with concerns about the team's ability to cut off dribble penetration and find a consistent contributor at small forward lingering. But until they clean up their defensive woes, the Clippers should be able to subsist somewhat on the strength of their offense, which led the league in points per possession last season.
Most people are fairly high on the Clippers' prospects in the regular season, although not many people actually made committed regular season rankings beyond the conference level. The Eye on Basketball crew was one of the few exceptions: Matt Moore and Zach Harper both had Los Angeles at 58-24, while James Herbert had more tempered expectations, leaving them at 55 wins. Still, all three had the Clippers as the #2 seed in the West, as did the ESPN Season Preview. Insider's Team Forecast, from Amin Elhassan, kept them even at 57 wins, although his colleague Kevin Pelton's model was more optimistic — 60 wins and a #1 seed.
There's a worrying trend among the national media. All of a sudden, the Clippers are everybody's trendy pick to win the Finals. 3 out of the 4 guys at CBS Sports — Harper, Moore, and Ken Berger — all have faith in Doc Rivers and his merry bunch of rascals (Herbert predicts a repeat of last year's outcome). So does Matt Dollinger at Sports Illustrated, although his colleagues have a little more doubt; 4 of the other 5 picked the Clippers to make it to the Western Conference Finals, then lose to either the Spurs or Thunder.
David Aldridge picked the Clippers to make the Finals and lose to the Cavaliers (he also insinuates that they'll play the Grizzlies in the WCF). On ESPN's 28-man panel, only Ohm Youngmisuk picked the Clippers to win it all, although four others believed enough to put them through to the final round. You should also check out the Reddit season predictions thread, made by the same group of power rankers but also featuring Seth Partnow and a few other big names. The Clippers got a lot of love there too, winning on 5 out of 30 ballots and advancing to 13 WCFs (the playoff brackets are nicely done, and worth a look).
Los Angeles has also been getting a fair amount of shine in the awards column. Harper and Moore each had a Clipper for MVP, although they couldn't agree on which one. Reddit gave a lot of love to Griffin and Paul, and threw a few votes in for DJ and Jamal Crawford getting DPOY and 6MOY, respectively. Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney liked Doc Rivers for Coach of the Year.
Even ESPN threw a few bones our way in spite of their rediscovered passion for LeBron — on the MVP ballot, CP3 and Blake got a vote each, preventing a sweep for the Chosen One. Crawford also got a few votes, although Rivers was eschewed entirely.
Overall, the Clippers are getting a lot of respect on the national level after another year of improvement — although the haters are certainly still numerous and loud. Hopefully the Clippers can validate that trust and prove their greatness to everyone.