NBA Sunday: The Key To the Clippers’ Contention
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The Key To the Clippers’ Contention
This is the year.
No, this is THE year.
This is the year that Clippers fans have been waiting for since, well, 1970, when the team was founded as the Buffalo Braves.
Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have been known more or less as the step-brothers of the Los Angeles Lakers. While the Lakers have amassed championship after championship and are expected to contend every year, the Clippers have been little more than an annual underdog story, a true test of faith for their loyal followers.
That all changed when the team drafted Blake Griffin with the first overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft and subsequently acquired Chris Paul in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. The team was suddenly on the rise, so much so that their notoriously tight owner suddenly opened up his wallet to help the team push for new heights. They acquired head coach Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics at no small expense, grabbed a solid backup point guard in Darren Collison, J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Antawn Jamison, giving them one of the best benches in the NBA to go along with a star-caliber starting lineup.
The Clippers have done a ton of work and spent quit a bit of money this summer, but are they now ready to be called contenders?
The easy answer should be yes. This should be the year that the Clippers emerge as a team ready to take the West by storm. They supplanted the Lakers as LA’s best team last season, now it’s time to supplant the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs as the best team in the Western Conference. But what will it take for that to happen?
It all starts with Blake Griffin. As Chris Paul so astutely pointed out earlier this summer, for the Clippers to reach their fill potential, Griffin must be the best player on the team.
“Blake is one of those guys, where his age has nothing to do with anything,” Paul told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “People may say he’s a young guy, but he’s been special in this league, he’s been an All-Star. His voice carries a lot of weight and I think our team will definitely go as Blake goes. … He’s our guy, and he’s good enough to do so.”
Griffin has to take those words to heart, first and foremost. He also has to wake up to the fact that despite his ever-growing advertisement and endorsement business, he still has a lot to prove on the NBA hardwoods. Some in the Clippers’ locker room feel that Griffin has allowed his popularity to go to his head, and that it might be sabotaging his effort to get better. Griffin has to silence his critics, both in the locker room and in the stands, if he is going to lead his team to postseason glory.
That means he has to be as attentive to the defensive and as he is to the offensive end. He needs to work as hard on his free throws as he does on his dunks. He has to play good rotation defense and stop his man, not just make highlight reel blocks. It’s time for Griffin to get over the Sports Center replays and start playing championship-caliber basketball on both ends of the floor and on every play.
The pieces are in place. The Clippers have arguably the best coach they have ever had, certainly in the modern era of Clippers basketball. They have an impressive starting lineup, including two of the best players in the NBA at their positions in Paul and Griffin. They have a deep bench and a burning collective desire to become the most popular team in Los Angeles.
As Paul astutely pointed out, that all starts with Griffin. He must evolve into the best power forward in the NBA for the Clippers to finally become a real threat to win an NBA championship.
Can Knicks Cash Checks From J.R. Smith’s Mouth?
Confidence is an incredibly important part of winning. Teams have to have collective confidence, which is driven by the confidence of its players. In the case of the New York Knicks, J.R. Smith has no shortage of confidence in his team’s championship hopes.
“I’m 100 percent sure,” Smith told the New York Post.
Smith’s confidence is admirable, though his assurance may be a bit far-fetched. The Miami HEAT, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are all sure to be ranked above them as 2013-14 NBA Previews begin to surface over the next few weeks. Some might even pick the radically revamped Brooklyn Nets to finish ahead of New York, something to which Smith takes great exception.
“The Nets weren’t good. Now they’re still not good,” Smith said.
The Nets may have added aging All-Star like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as an outstanding sixth-man in Jason Terry, but Smith is not willing to even entertain the notion that they might be the better New York team.
“I feel comfortable,” said Smith. “People ruled us out last year early, too. We added some great pieces. Unfortunately, we got rid of some good pieces, but we added Andrea [Bargnani], Beno [Udrih], Metta [World Peace]. We have to consistently play like we did the first 20 games last year the whole season. We can’t have a middle-of-season lapse. We have to consistently play the same way.”
The question still remains, have the Knicks done enough to contend? Will Smith’s outspoken nature and his bold claims put a bulls eye on his teammates’ backs that they really didn’t need?
It’s hard to imagine Bargnani, World Peace and Udrih being the difference between beating Miami and not beating Miami. It’s hard to see them putting New York ahead of the Pacers, who have a much better bench and a healthy Danny Granger ready for the upcoming season. Most of all, a healthy Derrick Rose could make the Bulls the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference, and there is almost no reasonable argument to be had that New York belongs in that discussion.
Confidence is a good thing, an important thing. But it can also be a vehicle for sabotage when those most vocally displaying the confidence are unlikely to be able to deliver on promises or guarantees made by that confident nature.
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