The Los Angeles Clippers have gone where no group of Clippers has ever gone before.
It’s the franchise’s longest winning streak since the Buffalo Braves won 11 straight in 1974.
The Clippers are indeed in rarified air for a franchise that has been more punch line than punisher over its history, which covers 42 seasons in three cities (Buffalo, San Diego and L.A.)
The win improved Los Angeles’ record to 18-6, tied with the Miami Heat for the second-best in the league. A franchise that has never won a division title has an eight-game lead over their home-court rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division and lead the upstart Golden State Warriors by two games.
A huge key for the Clippers has been the contributions from the second unit. Los Angeles may have the deepest bench in the league, even without injured Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Lamar Odom is still working his way back into shape after last year’s lost season with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers’ second unit doesn’t just hold down the fort while the stars rest. Instead, the Clipper reserves attack, building leads to the point where the starters haven’t had to play in the fourth quarter five times already this year.
Superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are playing career-low minutes, a positive sign for the team as the season moves into the dog days of January and February and as the Clippers prepare for what they hope will be an unprecedented run into the playoffs.
Jamal Crawford leads the Clipper bench gang, averaging 16.5 points in 29.5 minutes a game. That is the second-highest average on the squad, trailing only Griffin’s 18 point-per-game average. Matt Barnes is averaging just a shade less than 10 points a game off the bench, providing energy and production. Eric Bledsoe is quarterbacking the second unit and averages 9.7 points and almost three assists a night.
While the Clippers have only three players averaging double figures (Paul is at 16 points a game), seven players are averaging more than nine points a night (Caron Butler is at 9.7 PPG and DeAndre Jordan gets 9.6 a night).
Jordan’s improvement on the offensive end has been one of the surprises of the 2012-13 season thus far. Jordan’s effective shooting range prior to this year had been dunks, but he’s added some effective post moves to his repertoire. He even posted back-to-back 20-point games in November—a career first. The Clippers don’t need Jordan to emerge as a 20-10 superstar in the paint, but if he can be respectable enough that opponents have to account for him, it opens up things for Griffin and the guards.
Another major factor for the Clippers has been Bledsoe, who is averaging 20-5-5 with three steals per 36 minutes. Those are All-Star numbers; the only problem is that Bledsoe is getting less than 19 minutes right now and that number may go down when Billups is healthy.
Crawford, meanwhile, was not a signing that was universally hailed—many thought the Clippers should pursue shooters such as Courtney Lee or Ray Allen. All Crawford has done is lead the league in bench scoring and fourth-quarter scoring this season and has put himself at the front of the class for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
While coach Vinny Del Negro will never be confused with Larry Brown as a courtside tactician, what Del Negro is doing works for the Clippers. He keeps it simple; turning the offense over to Paul and letting the game’s best pure point guard create.
Put it all together and what you have is a Los Angeles Clippers’ squad that may reach unprecedented heights, which for this franchise would only require winning a division and reaching the conference finals for the first time in its history.
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