After last night, there’s no doubt who the best team in L.A. is. Really, there hasn’t been any doubt since 2012, and the head to head numbers are staggering. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, the Clippers are 23-4 against the Lakers, and have won these games by an average of 16.7 points. Patrick Beverley said it best before the season when he stated that the Clippers are still the best team in L.A., no matter the Lakers’ acquisition of the supposed (very much in doubt right now) “best basketball player in the world.” This statement drew the ire of many basketball fans around the globe, and sneers from Lakers fans who could finally see some light after five years in the basement. Well lo and behold, we have a Clips team gunning for the playoffs, and a Lakers team in the lottery. Funny how things work huh?
The Clippers are starting to find their groove after a busy trade deadline. Everyone seems to have upped their play in recent games (back-to-back games of 6+ players with double-digit points) and the chemistry is palpable. This is a tip of the cap to Doc Rivers’ and the rest of the coaching staff’s ability to mix-and-match different players, maneuver rotations, and get a new group to buy in quickly. The starting lineup of SGA-Shamet-Beverley-Gallo-Zubac has been a revelation, where the starters before the trade deadline were a disappointment. Their net rating is a +14.5, with an offensive rating of 110.7 and defensive rating of 96.3. While the sample size is still relatively small (10 games, 112 minutes), this starting five is establishing the Clips tough, defensive minded presence early, while also scoring the ball well. With SGA and Beverley catching fire recently (SGA is shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from three in his last five, Beverley is 46.4 percent from three) there’s no wonder why L.A. has won four out of five and is one of the hottest teams in the league.
Many in NBA media circles thought that with the Tobias trade, the Clips were punting this season to keep a draft pick and focus on free-agency. In reality, the Clips are contending for a middle seed in the crazy Western Conference without an All-Star or any “big names.” It’s cool where determination, grit, energy and chemistry can take you huh? Let’s see where the Clippers are ranked in week 21.
Author’s note: These rankings don’t include the Lakers game from Monday night.
This week: 12th, Last week: 13th
Notes: The reconstituted Clippers are now 6-3, making good on owner Steve Ballmer’s desire to qualify for the postseason, lottery pick be damned. Among the reinforcements, rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet has been a boon for the playoff drive -- 12.4 points in 28.1 minutes per game on a true shooting percentage of 64.8, including a 46.6 percent clip from beyond the arc.
This week: 10th, Last week: 13th
Notes: What’s amazing about the Clippers’ win in Sacramento on Friday (arguably their most important win of the season) was that they completed the season sweep while getting outscored by eight points in almost 33 minutes with either Lou Williams or Montrezl Harrell on the floor. Their latest starting lineup has now cracked the 100-minute mark and ranks as the fourth best defensive lineup (92.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) among the 97 league-wide lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. The Clippers’ win over the Knicks on Sunday, in which Landry Shamet shot 7-for-11 from 3-point range, began a stretch of eight straight games at Staples Center, and their “road” game on Monday is an opportunity to put another nail in the Lakers’ coffin.
This week: 10th, Last week: 14th
Notes: Landry Shamet has quietly put together a very solid rookie season. He’s established himself as a legit three-point specialist already by making the second-most among rookies so far. And his 41.6% shooting clip from distance is the best in years.
This week: 13th, Last week: 16th
Notes: Preseason projected win total: 29.4. Currently on pace for: 45.4. Difference: +16 wins. While I doubt the Steve Ballmer wisdom of wanting to still make the playoffs after trading away their best player in Tobias Harris -- the Clippers will lose their 2019 first-round pick if they aren’t in the lottery -- it feels like a moot point. They’re almost certainly going to make the playoffs. This is an incredibly well-run organization. If they get Kawhi Leonard in free agency, they’ll be on the fast track.
This week: 12th, Last week: 15th
Notes: The Clippers want to make the playoffs, and they’re in fine position to do it with the Lakers and Spurs (especially the Spurs) hitting the skids lately. Though L.A. is just 3-2 in its last five games, the Kings, Lakers and Wolves failed to make up ground in February. With Lou Williams increasing his scoring average for the fifth straight month and Montrezl Harrell posting two 30-point games in his last four outings, it’s clear that although the Clips added youth and assets at the deadline, their more experienced mainstays will decide the team’s fate.
This week: 12th, Last week: N/A
Notes: The Clippers made a couple of trades that should have theoretically damaged their playoff chances. Instead, they keep pulling away from the rest of the pack, sitting three games ahead of the ninth-seeded Kings.