The Clippers stood pat at the deadline, but getting Chris Paul back earlier than anyone expected may have been just as encouraging an addition as we all could have predicted. While his shooting stroke is still working it’s way back, CP was nothing short of phenomenal as a distributor in last night’s overtime win over the Hornets (17 assists, no turnovers). Blake Griffin clearly is enjoying having his partner in crime back on the court, as he’s playing like he isn’t satisfied with just a single Western Conference Player of the Week award to his name. The Clippers weren’t able to put together a complete performance in either one of their back-to-back games against the Western Conference elite, but they showed flashes of the firepower that makes them a scary opponent come playoff time, even for the Spurs or Warriors.
A huge, Wednesday-night matchup with the Rockets has far-reaching consequences in the hunt for the three seed, as a head-to-head loss makes it pretty darn difficult for the Clippers to avoid a four-five first round matchup (likely with the Jazz) and inevitable subsequent series with the Dubs. With Blake playing like a man possessed and Chris back in the fold, it should be a fun one against James Harden and his band of marksmen.
ESPN (Marc Stein) - 9 Last Week: 11
Chris Paul is back after missing more than a month and just announced his return with a vintage CP3-esque performance, racking up 15 assists against zero turnovers in Sunday night's overtime escape against Charlotte. Maybe we've been too tough on the Clips lately, keeping them out of the top 10 while Paul was healing, but we've decided to move them back into the upper third even though Golden State suddenly seems to own this team as much as Steve Ballmer does. Golden State's recent 50-point third quarter against the Clips fell just eight points shy of matching the NBA's record for a quarter and (gulp) topped each of the four quarters that the West posted in the All-Star Game. (Some good trivia as a bonus if you're in the mood: Blake Griffin is up to eight 40-point games for his career after the havoc he wreaked on the Hornets -- but strangely all eight have been at home.)
NBA.com (John Schuhmann) - 10 LW: 7
Blake Griffin (72 points on 56 percent shooting over the last two games) seems happy to have his point guard back. Chris Paul's return didn't get the Clippers back on track defensively and he shot just 10-for-32, but (as it always is) it was their minutes with him off the floor that gave them problems as they lost to the Spurs on Friday and needed overtime to beat the Hornets on Sunday. They're 3-11 (0-7 in the second game) in their last seven back-to-backs, with six more remaining, including a Milwaukee-Chicago trip this week.
NBC Sports (Kurt Helin) - 11 LW: 13
Chris Paul is back, and with that Blake Griffin is going off (72 points in his last two games). Still things are not smooth, they needed overtime to get by the Hornets, and with a tough schedule and a lot of back-to-backs left it will near impossible for them to get out of the four/five matchup in the first round of the playoffs (they are 5.5 games back of the three seed Rockets) and that means a tough Utah team in the first round, win that and get the Warriors.
CBS Sports (Matt Moore) - 14 LW: 13
Blake Griffin's back. Chris Paul's back. The band's back together for one more tour. Question is, are they going to put out a new album or just play the same hits? Because we've heard how those songs end.
Sports Illustrated (Jeremy Woo) - 12 LW: 10
Is this the last ride for the Clippers?. Everyone’s finally back healthy, and after a brutal Warriors-Spurs back–to–back out of the All-Star break, it’s all on these guys to pull together, sharpen the sword and make a difference in May. First, they’ve got to survive six sets of back-to-backs and 18 games in 30 days in March. And then, we find out what happens with CP3 and Blake (and maybe Doc, too).
They may remain just outside the top-10 in a majority of these columns, but I have a hunch they’ll start to inch their way back towards the top now that Chris Paul has returned. The schedule in March may appear difficult from a logistical standpoint, but it’s chock-full of beatable opponents, and it’s now or never for a team looking to make their first ever Western Conference Finals.
It’s hard to argue for vaulting the Clippers up the ranks just yet, but I do take issue with dedicated Clippers-hater Matt Moore slotting them in below a Pistons team that is three games under .500 and barely hanging on to a playoff spot in the East. Whether or not the Clippers are “playing the same hits” as they always have, those hits are platinum compared to whatever Detroit is churning out, even if they are playing better as of late.
It’s no surprise that around the league, the Warriors reign supreme. They’re joined by the usual suspects at the top of the ranks, but a team making one of the biggest leaps is the resurgent Raptors. They were active at the deadline, and new additions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, not to mention an incendiary past three games from DeMar DeRozan, have helped Toronto right the ship and solidify their place at the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
In addition to the Rockets, the Clippers take on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls later in the week, which shapes up to be a very winnable back-to-back. A real opportunity to go 3-0 means an opportunity to make a significant move up these rankings, as an undefeated week coupled with Chris Paul’s timely return would likely place the Clips squarely back in the national conversation.