USA TODAY Sports
On a 15-game winning streak and with a double-digit scoring margin on the season, the Clippers are not just the best team in Los Angeles. They are the best team in the league.
It's time to start talking seriously about the Clippers. It's way, way past time actually. They have the best record in the league, which is nice, but they are also the only team who ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency and that is something else altogether.
As it stands on Dec. 28, the Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the NBA. Let that sink in and marinate a little bit. You can make the argument that the Heat or Thunder will be better this spring, but right now, today, it's the Clippers who are on top. Their margin of victory is better than 10 points a game -- more than a point better than OKC's -- after their 106-77 crush-job against the Celtics on Thursday night.
They have now won 15 straight games; only four teams since 2007 have been on longer tears. While it's true that they have fattened up on a heavy fare of mediocre and worse teams during this run, they already own victories over the Heat, Grizzlies and Spurs.
Their win over the Celtics was instructive. The Clips raced out to a huge lead displaying a level of athleticism the C's can only remember in their dreams. The Celtics got their act together by the end of the first quarter and cut the lead to four early in the second on a Courtney Lee three-pointer, but 84 seconds later the lead was back to a dozen.
Eighty-four seconds. That's all it took for Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes to race up and down the court for layups, dunks and a classic Crawford floater and it was never really in doubt after that. Unlike last season when the Clips were at the mercy of a suspect rotation, they are now 10 deep and that's without Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups, who are out with injuries.
The TNT crew tried to make the case that their second unit was as good as some starters, but that's beside the point. Most bench units play against other reserves and there are very few -- if any -- second units that can match the Clippers' speed and versatility. Second units are most valuable when they change the game. Their bench is full of game-changers from Crawford to Bledsoe to Lamar Odom, who looks like half the player he was in Dallas and that's a good thing.
Offensively, they are fourth in points per 100 possessions, which is not unexpected. Any team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should be awesome offensively, but it's their defense that has stood out, especially for a team that ranked 18th last season in defensive efficiency.
Teams aren't getting to the rim often against the Clippers and when they do make it, they're not that likely to score. Opponents are shooting just 57 percent inside the restricted area per NBA.com, and the Clippers are just as stingy in other areas of the court. While some teams protect the paint or the perimeter well, the Clippers' defense controls the whole court. And we haven't even mentioned the steals yet.
As our Steve Perrin noted, the Clips lead the league in both steals and forced turnovers. That usually means transition and a whole bunch of dunks. Interestingly, given the talent on hand, the Clippers don't run that much -- they're about league average in place -- but that's a function of having the great Chris Paul at the controls. There's no one better in the halfcourt.
There are issues to be sure. All that depth won't look quite so menacing in the postseason when rotations tighten and their shooting from behind the arc and at the line are troubling. But again, unlike last season, Vinny Del Negro has late-game options in players like Crawford and Odom.
That, ultimately, may be the biggest area of concern. Del Negro will be tested come playoff time and how he handles the in-game adjustments will receive as much scrutiny as any coach in the league, with the possible exception of Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks. But for now, it's smooth sailing for the Clippers.