Head Of The Class?
Clips' ceiling yet to be determined
Why not? "Best" is relative and fluid, given the talent boasted by the West's elite teams. Would anybody truly be shocked if any upper-echelon squad knocked out another in the playoffs?
Depending on the day asked, arguments can also be made in favor of Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and (assuming LaMarcus Aldridge's groin heals up) Portland.
But on this particular day, I'll take the Clippers, in large part because I think a team's ceiling isn't always revealed at its peak, with all the planets aligned, but rather when things are a little wonky. (
For example, it's been extremely impressive how the Clippers have survived notable stretches without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. As CP3 watched from the sidelines, Blake Griffin shouldered the load like a true superstar, while Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison helped pick up the playmaking slack.
And all season long, the Clippers have lacked reserve frontcourt scoring. Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullins made so little impact the front office moved them at the deadline in exchange for no human beings. Ryan Hollins' shooting range is essentially the rim. Hedo Turkoglu has been (predictably) a non-factor. Granted, newbie Glen Davis should shore up this issue, but should Big Baby fail to fit in, it's grown clear this group will discover the proper workaround.
(Are the Clips perfect? Hardly. In particular, their effectiveness on the glass, which can make or break teams in the playoffs, leaves a lot to be desired. But no team is without weaknesses and for the time being, the Clips could be best equipped to offset theirs.
But again, ask me next week, and I might change my mind.
Legit but not better than Thunder
I saw the be-sleeved Clippers go into OKC and take down the Thunder on their home floor. I know where John Hollinger's mathbots (disconcertingly still active despite his well-earned departure to Memphis in 2012 -- Skynet, anyone?) put the Clippers vis-a-vis Oklahoma City.
But while the Clippers are an outstanding team, rightly called a title contender, they aren't yet a better one than the Thunder. For that matter, the Spurs and Rockets might argue they have an edge over L.A., too.
But sticking to Oklahoma City ...
Yes, they've hit some bumps re-integrating Russell Westbrook into their lineup following another round of knee issues. Yes, Russ took some Russ-y shots down the stretch of Sunday's loss that had Twitter howling. But Westbrook's rhythms will soon align with the rest of the team's and the Thunder will continue to thrive, especially with Kevin Durant's transformation into a perfect basketball machine nearly complete and Serge Ibaka on the rise.
But more importantly, the Thunder do more things well. For example, the Clippers are slightly more efficient offensively (108.7 points per 100 possessions to OKC's 107.2), but OKC is far more consistent defensively (99.8 points per 100 allowed, versus 102.3 for the Clippers, trending down).