The Clippers weathered a dreaded stretch of four games in five nights with only a single hiccup against a formidable Thunder squad. Not only did they escape relatively unscathed, but the thumping that they put on San Antonio showed what this team is capable of, sending a clear message to the rest of the league and legitimizing their spot in the upper echelon of these rankings.
ESPN (Marc Stein) - 2 Last Week: 4
What would you give greater weight to if we let you do the grading? A home loss to the Russell Westbrook Show marked by a punchless offense? Or a Blake Griffin-led clinic that leads to a 24-point rout of the mighty Spurs on their own floor? Hopeful signs that the likes of Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton have legitimately strengthened the Clippers' bench, coupled with sharp starts from Griffin and Chris Paul, have us (and presumably Doc Rivers) looking harder at the latter.
NBA.com (John Schuhmann) - 2 LW: 4
The Clippers' defense has been strong all season, ranking second in opponent turnover rate and second in the percentage of opponent shots that come from between the restricted area and 3-point range. And their offense finally got going in San Antonio on Saturday, scoring 73 points in the first half and shooting well from the perimeter for the first time (Blake Griffin was 7-for-10 from mid-range). They play two top-five defenses this week, with a chance to avenge Wednesday's loss to the Thunder.
NBC Sports (Kurt Helin) - 2 LW: 3
Los Angeles has the best defense in the NBA so far this young season, they are doing a great job of forcing opponents into midrange jumpers. The win on the road at San Antonio might be the most impressive win of the season (and it has us overlooking the home loss to OKC). If the Clippers can stay healthy and can get a playoff showdown with San Antonio, L.A.’s athleticism could be real problem for the San Antonio.
Sports Illustrated (Jeremy Woo) - 3 LW: 4
A narrow home loss to the Thunder stands as the only blemish on a highly promising start.
Sports Illustrated may still be showing deference to the Warriors at #2, but general consensus points to the Clippers as the second most impressive team of the season thus far (justifiably behind the undefeated Cavaliers). While the Cavs have been rolling opponents to begin their title defense, a loss or two in a couple of tough games this week (ATL, CHA) could loosen their grip on the top spot. As noted by John Schuhmann and Kurt Helin, the numbers show that the Clips are forcing opponents into midrange shots at a very high clip, reinforcing the eye-test that this squad has flipped the narrative by playing at an elite level on the defensive end of the floor. And as they showed against the Spurs, that newfound tenacity can be deadly when the offense is clicking as well.
The Clippers will look to build on that win and continue to work out some of the offensive kinks that have plagued them in the early going in four challenging match-ups this week (vs. DET, vs. POR, @OKC, @MIN). The defense will surely have its hands full trying contain Damian Lillard (and his ever-expanding, what-is-he-thinking? range), who comes to town Wednesday in an early season rematch that should have no shortage of chippiness. Finally, circle that Friday game against the Thunder on your calendar, as the Clippers will surely be looking to avenge their only loss of the season against an athletic group that rendered the offense rather impotent in their first meeting.