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Count out the Clippers at your own peril

Even with injuries and roster turnover, the Clippers are coming together down the stretch of this season.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers' formula isn't all that complex: put the NBA's best passer (Chris Paul) at point guard, place the NBA's best rebounder (DeAndre Jordan) at center, add a wildly athletic big man with scoring touch (Blake Griffin), mix in a few shooters on the wings and let them play ball.

It's a strategy that has quietly worked to perfection this season. Despite injuries to key players, Los Angeles is only a game and a half out of third place in the Western Conference, boasting the NBA's second-best net rating, and are the only team in the top six in offensive and defensive ratings since the all-star break.

The Clippers won nine of the 15 games without Griffin, but while that record is respectable, they're clearly better with him next to Jordan. After losing in his return, Los Angeles has won five straight. Here's how this Clippers team is different from the past three teams that have failed to advance past the semifinals.

The offense is deadly despite the bench

A bench currently made up of Spencer Hawes, Hedo Turkoglu, Austin Rivers, Nate Robinson and Glen Davis is admittedly a liability, but they've played better than you'd expect without sixth man specialist Jamal Crawford, who has missed 11 games and counting with a calf injury. Anyway, Los Angeles' strength comes from their starting five, which is usually so much better than opposing teams that bench matchups hardly matter.

Only the Cavaliers, Spurs, Warriors and Thunder are scoring more points per 100 possession than the Clippers since the all-star break. The season Paul is having right now -- 19 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, 48 percent field goal shooting, 38 percent three-point shooting and marvelous all-around defense -- would have him near the top of the MVP discussion some years. Only this year's wealth of transcendent players has denied his otherwise-worthy campaign.

Los Angeles is the NBA's second-best three-point shooting team, nailing 37 percent of their shots from distance. That's the third-best mark in the NBA, behind only the conference leading Warriors and Hawks.

The defense is making huge leaps

The biggest problem with Doc Rivers' embarrassingly vocal campaign for DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year is that Los Angeles has been below average (no. 18 in the NBA) on that end. The same can't be said since the all-star break, however. The Clippers are only allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions, which is better than all but five other NBA teams.

With the starting front court now back together -- Matt Barnes, Griffin and Jordan -- the Clippers clearly have the ability to be good. Those three are athletic, versatile and able to switch without presenting huge mismatches. Along with Paul's defense at the point guard spot, the Clippers are taking the same qualities that make them such an excellent offensive team and putting them to use on the other end.

Defensive rebounding is part of the equation, too. Jordan has grabbed 15 or more rebounds in 17 of his last 20 games. When on the defensive end, the Clippers grab 78 percent of available rebounds, according to NBA.com's stats page.

★★★

After three years as a middle of the pack playoff team without even a Western Conference Finals appearance to show for it, the Clippers are flying a bit under the radar. But right now, as the season draws to a close, this year's rendition of the team is coming together in a way we haven't seen in the previous seasons. The burden of proof is on Los Angeles to prove this year is different, but so far, they're showing it is.