They could not be more different. Two teams on opposite coasts, in different conferences and with vastly contrasting histories. In so many ways the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat are polar opposites. How their current teams were formed, however, is very similar. In fact, watching Wednesday’s 95-89 overtime victory got me thinking. There are quite a few similarities between last year’s Heat team (2010-2011) and this year’s Clipper squad (2011-2012). Here are a few observations:
You know the names. LeBron James. Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul. Blake Griffin. Chris Bosh. They are the cream of the crop in the NBA and in the conversation for top player at their respective position (with the exception of Bosh, we could be looking at the top point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward in the NBA).
While the Clippers don’t have a third All-Star caliber player anywhere close to Bosh, they combat their missing end of the tripod with a smaller tripod — Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan. Together they more than make up for Bosh’s production, and serve as the balance to Paul and Griffin.
It’s almost unfair that these two teams have this much talent on them. As the Heat proved last year, though, it takes more than star power to win a championship.
Lack of time together
Both teams were formed in some weird combination of the draft, free agency and trades. It’s as if the basketball gods conducted a sick experiment, wanting to make super teams in each conference and see how they fare with little time together. Hmm…
The Clippers have been together for exactly a month to the day. They acquired Chris Paul on Dec. 14th, 2011.
Under normal circumstances, such as no lockout and a full 82-game season, they’d be ending training camp right now with eight preseason games under their belt. Instead, they’re using game time as practice time, learning on the fly and making plenty of mistakes along the way. There’s no doubt that one of the main issues behind the Clippers’ rebounding and defensive struggles is a lack of familiarity and experience with one another.
While the Heat had more time (even a couple more months isn’t a huge difference maker), they suffered big blows by losing their fourth and fifth best players, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, for basically the entire season. That made the learning curve even more difficult and forced them to try and speed up the process. Things don’t work as well when key parts are missing.
The Heat were under a lot more pressure last season than the Clippers currently are, as the media’s microscope seemed to investigate a little further with each passing game. As you know, ESPN.com even made the Heat Index, a website solely dedicated to covering the Heat. The media could not get enough of the Heatles.
Nonetheless, the Clippers have captivated the league’s attention too, drawing in general fan interest, creating a catchy meme (Lob City!) and irking their co-tenants enough to warrant negative reaction from their often-snooty fans. Besides Miami, this is the most popular a team has been for as long as I can remember. Every one is talking about them.
For all the negativity that was spewed upon the Heatles, the Lob City Clips have received almost the total opposite – acclamation. There are some detractors, mainly in the form of Laker fans, but for the most part the Clippers are everyone’s darling. They have the swag of the month. Of course, if the losses begin to pile up, we shall see the media toot a different horn. The Clippers are narrowly on the edge of Heat-esque criticism. Just watch.
There’s no hiding each team’s roster flaws. The Heat had virtually no production from their center and point guard positions last year. Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire and Juwan Howard were terrible. Anthony was respectable at times, but couldn’t score to save his life. Ilgauskas had clearly lost one too many steps and was on his last leg. Carlos Arroyo, Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby at point guard? Don’t get me started. Arroyo was let go and Chalmers was light switch — either off or on. Bibby had the worst postseason in NBA history last year…
Meanwhile, the Clippers don’t have a back-up center, or small forward, or a true shooting guard. Reggie Evans has played some 5, but at 6-foot-8 on a good day, he’s undersized. Brian Cook hasn’t been making shots lately and isn’t contributing anything else meriting playing time. Solomon Jones is raw and unskilled. The Clips don’t have many options at center.
On the perimeter they only have Butler and Ryan Gomes, although Gomes has notoriously played better at the 4 and has played there quite a bit this season. Foye, as previously stated, is the team’s only true “2”, but he isn’t better than Paul, Billups or Williams and is often the odd man out. If anything, the Clips clearly need a center and another wing to flucuate between the 2 and the 3.
When they’re on the floor, both teams are expected to win almost every night. It comes as a shock if they don’t. A disappointment. The Clippers aren’t on the Heat’s level of championship or bust, and don’t face the same daunting pressure per say, but it’s close enough to merit conversation. Remember, we’re eight games into year one. We have no idea how the rest of the season is going to play out.
Regardless, the expectations are there for the Clippers. What are they exactly? No one is sure. But they’re there in some form or another. It’s playoffs or failure, at least. Most likely home court and at least one series win. Let’s just hope they don’t follow in the Heat’s footsteps and lose if they make it to June.