Yeah, the Clippers lost this week. But they still have the best record in basketball against one of the toughest schedules in the league, and it gets tougher with tonight’s showdown with the Toronto Raptors.
Before we get into the power rankings, how about a nod for the Clippers’ start point guard Chris Paul, who was ranked as the frontrunner in the NBA MVP race by HoopsHype today:
MVP Race: We put a Clipper at No. 1. pic.twitter.com/9VEnysYQyh— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) November 21, 2016
Blake Griffin is also ranked 8th. Both of the Clippers’ superstars have been getting recognition in MVP rankings but this is the first time I’ve seen one of them in first place.
Now for the power rankings:
After allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions through their first eight games, the Clippers have (inevitably) taken a step backward defensively. Their seven-game winning streak came to an end when they allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 15-for-26 from 3-point range on Wednesday, and weekend wins over the Kings and Bulls were uneven. Still, they have the most wins (6) over other teams that are currently over .500 and the league's best point differential by a wide margin, with only two losses by a total of six points. Paul Pierce made his (final) season debut on Friday and made four of his six shots over the weekend.
The Clippers are allowing a ridiculously stingy 91.4 points per 100 possessions when DeAndre Jordan is on the floor compared to 106.1 points per 100 possessions when Jordan is sitting. J.J. Redick has been as hot as any Clipper in the opening month, which is just one more reason these guys are off to a franchise-best unbeaten start on the road at 6-0. There's too much goodness going on, in other words, to drop the Clips after one narrow misstep at home against Memphis.
You can’t underestimate how great Chris Pauland Blake Griffin have been defensively this season, propelling this team — but don’t sleep on how great the Clippers’ offense has been of late. In the Clippers’ last five games they have scored 118.9 points per 100 possessions (second only to ridiculous Warriors offense). They are scoring efficiently in every possible way — transition, pick-and-roll, spot-up jumpers, whatever they run now it works.
The most balanced team in the league, and after Monday's tilt against the Raptors (who are on a back-to-back), they have an easy stretch of games before the December 1 showdown with the mighty Cavaliers. Don't look now, though, the Warriors are tied and chasing down that No. 1 spot.
It’s not often that the top spot in these rankings varies as often as it has, as we approach the one-month mark, but this is another matter of awarding full credit. The Cavs and Warriors should still be the clear conference favorites, but it’s the Clippers who have played the most dominant basketball so far.
Here are some noteworthy Clippers numbers through 14 games: they’re second in offensive rating, second in defensive rating, first in net rating, fifth in assist to turnover ratio, fourth in true shooting and first in points off turnovers. So, basically, this team and these players are in midst of quite possibly the best ball of their entire co-existence, which dates back to when we thought “Lob City” was cool, and when Donald Sterling owned the team, and when people were still mad about Chris Paul not being on the Lakers.
They’re now capable of those massive scoring runs, committed on both sides of the ball, and are fully healthy. You can point to a deeper bench as a starting point, but this is really a case of tangible improvement coming from within. You’ll hear a billion times about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s contract years, and the fact that this group has never made the West finals, but that’s relevant discourse. “Sense of urgency” is hackneyed, and “continuity” isn’t always a great explanation, but this is one of those situations where it just looks and feels like things have truly come together.
The overarching NBA conversation has felt like two-party politics. Even if it’s the team that still complains more than anyone else in the league, wouldn’t it be great to have another legit contender? Kevin Durant’s departure from the Thunder made a title way harder, but it flung the door open for L.A. to sneak firmly alongside the Warriors atop of the West. The Clippers will play the both the Cavs and Dubs early in December, and that’ll be our best litmus test. Right now, they’re deservedly in our top spot.