NBA PM: Clippers Out of Lakers’ Shadow
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have had to deal with being the “other team” in the City of Angels. The Lakers have more championships than the Clippers have playoff appearances. The purple and gold are 93-72 all-time against the red, white and blue. Even at home games, the Clippers must stare up at the Lakers’ banners and retired jerseys. In the past, the Lakers and their fans have laughed at the Clippers and dismissed any rivalry between the two teams, but that’s starting to change.
The Clippers are having their best season in franchise history. They’ve set a number of milestones during the 2012-13 season. For the first time ever, the Clippers will finish the season with at least 50 wins and a winning road record. This season also marks the first time in franchise history that the Clippers have won the Pacific Division title. Los Angeles also had 17 consecutive wins spanning across five weeks back in November and December, which is the longest winning streak in franchise history. The Clippers were once the laughingstock of the NBA, but they are now legitimate contenders and finally out of the Lakers’ shadow.
The Clippers won the season series against the Lakers this year, the first time that has happened in 20 years. They’ll finish higher than the Lakers in the standings for just the fifth time in history. While the Lakers dominated the headlines over the offseason after pairing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Clippers were having quite an offseason themselves. They re-signed Blake Griffin and added veterans like Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Willie Green and Grant Hill to the team. The Clippers were once again relegated to the back burner by their Staples Center co-tenant, but this motivated the team and it’s something that was discussed frequently during their summer workouts. Now, the players admit it’s nice to be ahead of the Lakers in the standings.
“I think it’s pretty cool for the fact that it’s always been a kind of big brother-little brother thing,” Crawford said. “Nobody can question the Lakers’ history and what they’ve done, all of those wonderful things. But for right now, we’re playing some good basketball. They’re playing a lot better [recently], but right now, I think our fans are proud of what we’re doing. It’s definitely something that our fans can be proud of, the Clipper fans like Billy Crystal and all of the fans who have supported us through the tough times. Now we’re putting a product out on the floor that lets them stick out their chins and say, ‘Hey, we have a good team too.’ I think that’s huge for them.”
The Clippers are currently 50-26 and hold the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The team has enjoyed achieving milestone after milestone, but they also have their eyes on a bigger goal.
“It shows that we’re part of something bigger than just ourselves,” Crawford said. “Every time we do something that’s kind of historic like the road victories, the 50-win season, the most consecutive wins and all of that, it’s all special for us. We’re writing history, but we still have a lot of room to grow too.”
“This is new [for the franchise], but we don’t want to look backwards,” Crawford added. “We want to look at this as a building block. It’s something that we can build on, and we’ll continue to get better each year. Year in and year out, this is what we’ll continue to do. This is setting the bar, it’s not the end of the road or end all be all for us. We still feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement going forward.”
Crawford knew that this could be a very good team when they came together over the summer for offseason workouts. Then, as the Clippers traveled to China during the preseason and played well at the start of the regular season, he realized that they could realistically be one of the league’s elite.
“When we were all coming in during the summer, I realized that we could be a special group,” Crawford said. “When you’re sitting in the training room during the summer and Chauncey [Billups] walks in and then Chris [Paul] and then Blake [Griffin] and then Willie [Green] and then Matt [Barnes] and then Lamar [Odom] and then Ronny [Turiaf] and all of these guys walk in, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re all on the same team!’ That’s when, I think, we realized we had a chance. Then, going over to China and just bonding and coming back and playing great basketball, that’s when we realized it.”
The Clippers have a swagger about them this season. They truly believe they have what it takes to not only make a deep postseason run in the Western Conference, but win it all in June.
“We feel like we can play with anybody,” Crawford said. “When we’re playing the right way and playing our style and our brand of basketball, we feel like we can play with anybody, anywhere. That’s how confident we are. If we play our style of play and play our game, I’m confident in us against anybody. I don’t fear any team.”
“No question about it, this is the best team I’ve been on,” Crawford added. “When you have guys like Chris Paul, the best point guard in the world, and Blake Griffin, these guys are super-duper stars. Then the supporting cast around them, our bench and all of the layers to this team, it’s just terrific.”
Even though the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles this season, they still trail the Lakers when it comes to attention and coverage. The Lakers are still written and talked about much more than the Clippers. Part of it is because of the constant drama unfolding down the hallway in Laker Land, but part of it is because the Clippers are underrated. Crawford agrees with this characterization.
“To be honest, for sure,” Crawford said when asked if the Clippers are underrated. “But that’s okay with us because at the end of the day, we’ll have to go out and prove it on the court. No matter if they say we’re good or if they say we’re not that good, at the end of the day we have to prove it. For us, that’s what it’s all about. We’ll sneak up on people, I guess.”
If the playoffs started today, the Clippers would face the Memphis Grizzlies in a rematch of last year’s first-round series, which L.A. won in seven games. Crawford said the Clippers are ready for the Grizzlies, or any team for that matter.
“Memphis is a tough draw for anybody,” Crawford said. “I remember San Antonio a couple years ago. They’re a tough draw for anybody. It’s so funny in the West because everything changes every day. It can be Memphis one day and then it’s Golden State or Houston. We just have to worry about the things that we can control and go from there. If we play Memphis in the first round, or any of these teams, I think we’ll be ready. We’ve seen these guys a lot in the West. We know who they are and they know who we are so there won’t be any surprises.”
As the Lakers are fighting to make the playoffs, the Clippers are fighting to maintain home court advantage. That sentence would’ve seemed strange just about every year since the Clippers relocated to Los Angeles, but times are changing. Not only are the Clippers suddenly relevant, they currently own L.A.
Up Close With Tyson Chandler
The New York Knicks are finally getting healthy and, as a result, they’ve played some of their best basketball of the season. The Knicks are currently on a 10-game winning streak and show no signs of slowing down. Carmelo Anthony’s knee is no longer causing him problems and he has been outstanding lately, scoring 90 points over his last two games. Tyson Chandler is back in the starting lineup as well after missing 10 games with a neck injury.
HOOPSWORLD caught up with Chandler after New York’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night to discuss his health, Anthony’s hot hand, the Knicks’ recent success and much more. Check out the video interview below:
Andy Enfield Discusses New Job at USC
One month ago, Andy Enfield was an unknown head coach at a small school that nobody knew about. Now, after leading the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to the Sweet 16 in just their second year of Division-I eligibility, Enfield has become a household name and parlayed his success into a big-time coaching job. Last week, Enfield became the new head coach of the USC Trojans. The 43-year-old coach had been making just $157,000 a year at FGCU, but his deal at USC will pay him well over $1,000,000 a year for the next six seasons.
“It’s pretty special,” Enfield told The Mighty 1090 in San Diego. “To take FGCU to the Sweet 16 and see what it has done for that university and the communities of Florida, I will never forget it. It has been amazing. Then, to be hired as coach at such a premiere academic institution with an unparalleled sports tradition and program here at USC, it’s just a dream and I’m so excited to start.”
“I’ve been preparing for this day my entire life,” Enfield added. “I was fortunate to work for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State to really understand how to build a quality program at a football school with a great national reputation like Florida State and then got my chance as a head coach to go in and use those skills to develop the program. I’m looking forward to this opportunity. This is an amazing place. I love Los Angeles. My brother has lived here for 15 years. [I] visited here numerous times, recruited out here. I couldn’t be happier. My family wants to live here. We’re excited.”
USC has received some criticism for hiring Enfield since he has just two years of experience as a head coach and his success at FGCU was a relatively small sample size. While USC athletic director Pat Haden has insisted that Enfield’s success wasn’t a flash in the pan and that “those in the basketball world have known of his abilities for a while,” even Enfield acknowledges that he wouldn’t have gotten the USC job if it weren’t for FGCU’s upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State.
When asked what are the odds he would’ve been in this position without the upset victories, Enfield said: “Zero.” When pressed if he would still be the head coach at FGCU if the team hadn’t beaten Georgetown, Enfield was honest.
“I don’t know,” Enfield said. “I was not looking to necessarily change jobs because we have everyone coming back with the exception of two players. We had two transfers sitting out from Georgia Tech and Marquette so FGCU is going to win 20-something games next year and I knew that we [were] building a great program, but then we beat Georgetown in an uptempo and fun style of play. Then we beat San Diego State the same way with scoring 81 points. Now we’re in the Sweet 16 and things change when you get to the Sweet 16 on a national level. I never imagined we would be in a Sweet 16, but at the same time we knew we could get there. We made a point to prepare for the game. We knew we could beat Georgetown if we played well. We prepared to do so. We said the same against San Diego State. Even though it was a surprise to get there in year two, it wasn’t a shocker to me because I know how good our players are. There was a dramatic improvement in skill level from the first year to the second.”
While USC has taken some heat for hiring Enfield, they weren’t alone in trying to steal him from FGCU. Enfield said that his representative was working very hard once the team lost to the Florida Gators in the Elite Eight because so many schools were reaching out and trying to set up an interview.
“I have a representative and he has done a great job of taking care of all the calls,” Enfield said. “My message was, ‘I’m not meeting with or seriously discussing any job opening until after the season. If anyone wants a face-to-face meeting, it won’t be until after we lose our final game and then we can at least have conversations and set up meetings if that was the desired result.’ So he was a very busy man after we lost to Florida in the Sweet 16. His phone was non-stop for about a day and a half. I wanted to come work at USC. I thought this was a great opportunity. The future here is going to be tremendous. When I sat down with Pat Haden, the AD, he just sold me. That was it. He’s a genuine person, he’s a football superstar, he’s been around this campus and he just bleeds USC. What a great academic institution with unbelievable support from the community and the athletic programs. This is a national school and a national brand and we just have to do our part as a basketball staff to create a national, USC basketball brand.”
Enfield, who was 41-28 in his two seasons at FGCU, will take over for interim coach Bob Cantu. Cantu had a 7-8 record after succeeding Kevin O’Neill, who was fired in mid-January. We’ll see if Enfield is the next big thing in college basketball or if he was simply the flavor the month.