|SB Nation||Drew Garrison||5||+1||The Clippers make their first appearance in the top five since the preseason rankings. Yes, they dropped an ugly one to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans, but responding with a 20-point blowout of the San Antonio Spurs on the second half of a back-to-back was good enough to overlook it.|
|ESPN||Marc Stein||4||+1||Count the committee (of one) among those who assumed that the Clips had a decent shot to sign Kevin Garnett once he secured his seemingly inevitable buyout in Brooklyn. But listening to KG address the matter over the weekend, it doesn't seem as though pursuing a buyout is in the plans.|
|CBS Sports||Matt Moore||5||+1||The Clippers struggled through the first 2.5 months, and lost to a lot of good teams. We all sold low on them, and since then they've rattled off blowouts vs. bad teams, prompting comments from me like, "I still don't believe you." In the span of a week they have knocked off the Suns and Spurs (in a blowout Saturday). They're getting better month by month. That matters.|
|Yahoo!||Marc Spears||4||+1||Western Conference All-Star point guard Chris Paul is averaging 20.6 points in his last five games while shooting 55.4 percent from the field.|
|NBA.com||David Aldridge||5||+1||The Grammy Trip comes East this week for three games -- at Brooklyn Monday, at Cleveland Thursday, at Toronto Friday -- before heading back West for games at Oklahoma City and Dallas.|
|NBA.com||John Schuhmann||4||0||After Saturday's win in San Antonio, the Clippers are 9-4 against the other teams in the West's top eight, with five straight wins by an average of 16 points. Austin Rivers has scored in double-figures in three straight games and on Saturday, Spencer Hawes finally looked like the guy Doc Rivers thought he was signing. When it has a bench, this team is really good.|
|Sports Illustrated||Matt Dollinger||7||0||The Clippers have started a brutal eight-game road trip off strong, winning two of three including a 20-point rout of the Spurs. With its roster fully healthy, L.A. is short on excuses these days. The team’s defense is rounding into form with Spencer Hawes providing a much-needed interior presence off the bench.|
|Pro Basketball Talk||Kurt Helin||4||+1||They had their six game win streak snapped in New Orleans, then responded on Saturday with maybe best game of season vs. Spurs. They Clippers have done it all with offense, scoring 113.9 points per 100 possessions in last eight games, best in NBA in that stretch. Defense 17th in league in that same time frame.|
|USA Today||Conglomerate||4||+3||They have 12 wins by 20 or more points, explaining why they are third in point differential.|
While compiling these rankings, I was preparing to write a celebratory paragraph about how our intrepid Clippers were once again unanimously in the top five teams on every swami's screed. Unfortunately, the not easily-impressed Matt Dollinger had to go and ruin this for me. But that's okay, even LeBron in 2013 couldn't win an MVP without one guy going against the grain.
A blowout win in San Antonio on a SEGABABA (with the Spurs off since Wednesday) seemingly did a lot to improve the public image of this team, with praise now being lavished on waking giant Spencer Hawes and more-than-a-name sparkplug Austin "Doogie" Rivers. The newly dubbed Little Rivers Band is establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with, and we could see them gain more and more appreciation from fans and critics alike as their whirlwind Eastern tour continues.
I should note that Matt Moore took care to shower additional praise this week on the Clippers in his power rankings column outside of the already-quoted blurb:
And just like that, the Clippers are back from the dead.
Los Angeles drastically underperformed the first two months of the season. Its numbers were always solid. Its record was fine. But it was losing games against heavy hitters. It seemed to be padding numbers against lottery teams. Its defense looked like a wreck, the bench roadkill.
And yet as February begins, the Clippers have moved into No. 3 in the Western Conference at 33-15, 2.5 games back of Memphis for the second seed and a doable 5.5 games back of Golden State for the No. 1 seed and the Pacific Division title. They rank No. 1 in points per possession this season, but that's not the shocking number.
Here's the shocking number: Your Los Angeles Clippers are now 9-4 vs. Western Conference playoff teams, better than the Warriors (8-4), Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets, Suns and Spurs in the bloodbath/gauntlet/death match, behind only Memphis (11-4).
For all the talk of the Clippers' body language, vulnerability on the wing (and they remain solvable with the right personality because of weakness there), and some disturbing losses, the Clippers are where they need to be and every bit the contender we thought they might be.
And I don't want to alarm anybody ... but in his past five games, Austin Rivers' per 36 minutes averages are 16.9 points and 4.2 rebounds, and he's shooting 46 percent. Even if you take his per-game numbers, eight points a game ... that's decent for a bench player. Everything really is coming up Clippers.
|Margin of Victory||+7.21||3rd|
|Simple Rating System||7.20||2nd|
|Strength of Schedule||.502||T-11th|
ESPN's EWP stat suggests the Clippers are performing at the level of a 36-12 team. Most elite teams by this calculation supposedly outperform their expected records; only Dallas is below its expected record as much as LAC (three gamess). Basketball Reference has Los Angeles with a Pythagorean record of 35-13, which would tie them with Atlanta for the second best record in the league.
The Clippers continue their push back into the Western elite, as they currently stand at third place in the conference standings (tied with Houston). The ongoing gauntlet of relentlessly elite competiton will continue to push this team, but if Saturday night is any indication, they're more than up to the challenge.
1. Atlanta Hawks
2. Memphis Grizzlies
3. Golden State Warriors
4. Los Angeles Clippers
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
These rankings could be very different come next Monday, as the Hawks take on the two best teams in the West this week, while the Clippers take on Cleveland and Toronto (the #2 seed in the East, and an honorable #6 in my authoritative rankings) on consecutive nights. A lot of good basketball will be played over this next week-and-a-half leading up to the All-Star break — Friday and Sunday might be up there for some of the best slates of action all season, so keep your eyes peeled for this space next week.