- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Eastern Conference scout on the Clippers' credentials as a contender and the state of Blake Griffin's game:
"The team that's made the big jump in the West is the Clippers. They've taken a major step forward defensively. Really, really impressive last time I saw them.
"It's living proof that you shouldn't pre-judge things 30 or 40 games into the season, because he looked absolutely confused back then. You would sit there wondering: 'Are they ever gonna get there?' But now you watch them and they definitely seem to understand what they're doing as a group. They play with good energy [defensively].
"That doesn't mean they're gonna lock the other team down every time. Nobody does that in the regular season. But now you can tell that this is a team that can really amp it up. They seem to have each other's backs now [on defense] and I think they have another gear to show us when the playoffs come.
"A lot of it has to do with DeAndre Jordan's development. When you talk about players who've improved since last season, he's a big part of their success. But I just see a team that's more in sync. Everyone talking on D, everyone's anticipating rotations, moving on the flight of the ball. The makings are there for them to ramp it up another notch.
"The question with these guys is going to be: Can they can make enough outside shots to compete for the title? But they're a real threat. And you have to give Blake Griffin a lot of credit for that, too.
"He's improved a little bit every year. Some of the kinks in his shot have been ironed out, which is a really long process. That doesn't happen in a month.
"But specifically what jumps out at you is his footwork is really good. You can tell he's put a lot of work in there. He's an undersized post player, but he can have success against taller guys because he pivots with both feet so well. He's under control and his balance is so good that he can create angles and get shots up against longer players."
97dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo