In today’s Per Diem article, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh deduces that there are four clear-cut contenders for the Larry O’Brien trophy — the Heat, Pacers, Spurs and Thunder — and then a handful of “pretenders” a step or two away from true contention (the Clippers, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Nets).
Here is his breakdown of the Clippers’ contention odds, and what they need to do to be the last team standing in June:
Los Angeles Clippers | Path to contention: Get healthy.
One of the most interesting kernels from the latest Forecast is the Clippers taking a definitive backseat to the Thunder despite both teams losing their star point guard to injury. Yet the Thunder still are viewed as serious contenders, while the Clippers are expected to be distant also-rans.
Why the disparity? It probably has to do with Kevin Durant’s superhuman play more than anything, but we shouldn’t sleep on the Clippers who are just starting to get healthy again and have played great ball recently. Since Chris Paul separated his shoulder in the third quarter of the Dallas Mavericks game on Jan. 3, the Clippers have won seven of their past nine games, including the Dallas win in which Paul sat out most of the second half.
They’ve been able to weather the storm thanks to their overhauled defense and the return of J.J. Redick (18.4 PPG in past five games), who has stabilized the battered backcourt. Since Dec. 1, the Clippers quietly own the fourth-best defense in the league, holding opponents to 100.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. If coach Doc Rivers can continue turning a Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan front line into a top-5 defensive outfit and Paul comes back fully healthy, they’ll put up enough points to be the last one standing. Those are two big ifs, however.