Updated: January 10, 2013, 9:26 AM ET

1. Entertaining The Idea Behind These Clippers

By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Two hours before tipoff, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers begin to flood the plaza in front of Staples Center and the restaurants across the street at the LA Live entertainment complex. They have an ambivalent relationship with the statue of longtime voice of the Los Angeles Lakers Chick Hearn, but a few snap photos alongside his bronzed likeness.

They showed up early in 2006, but the vibe was different. Back then, fans were coming to celebrate an underdog, but these days they're here to attend an event. They're way beyond the theme that the Clippers are a team defying history, curses or dysfunction. That notion simply doesn't resonate anymore.

"It's just crazy how the culture is changing," DeAndre Jordan, who at 23 is the Clipper with the longest continuous service to the team.

The novelty of redemption has worn off. Angelenos likes their plots to move at a decent clip. A storyline in this town needs to evolve to be interesting. If it's not, the city quickly turns its attention elsewhere.

Blake Griffin, O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin's Clips are now an NBA-best 28-8.

"You go anywhere in a city like this one, and it loves its ... products," Odom said. "What we put out there? We're one of the best shows in town."

It took Odom a second to search for product, but it was a spot-on characterization of the dynamic at work in Los Angeles, a city where production value is king.

"How many [nationally] televised games do we have this year?" Odom asked

The answer: 30, among the most in the league.

There are several factors at play in the Clippers' new allure. It's not insignificant that the Lakers are in a downward spiral and losing games in particularly ugly fashion. But the city is responding to the Clippers not because they're cuddly underdogs, but because, as Odom said, they're a good show.

Wednesday night's attraction offered something not typically seen at Clippers games this season -- suspense. The Clippers eked out an 99-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks, after falling behind by 10 points late in the third quarter.

"It wasn't a productive game and I didn't think we played particularly well," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We got the win, but we need to play much better than we did tonight."

With the Clippers facing an uphill climb at the start of the fourth quarter, Del Negro opted to stay with Chris Paul, who normally takes a blow before the final stretch but played all 24 minutes of the second half on Wednesday night. As Paul took his seat behind the podium after the game to address the media, he immediately grabbed a copy of the final box score.

The first thing Paul looks at when he examines the numbers?

"Turnovers," Paul said. "We're better than we were tonight as far as taking care of the ball, and that gave them opportunities to score. During warm-ups, we didn't look like we had those fresh legs. We came out a little flat, but it's not going to be merry every night. This is a good win for us to grit it out and fight it out."

As usual, the Clippers looked their best in transition and when Paul was distributing the ball in the half court. He racked up 16 assists, shot the ball efficiently (8-for-13 from the field for 19 points) and drained a buzzer-beater to close the first half.

Matt Barnes continues to look like the best veteran minimum salary player in the league. He finished with 19 points of his own, including a 5-for-8 night from beyond the arc.

But, as Paul cited, a rash of uncharacteristic turnovers, 21 in all for the team, made life more difficult than it needed to be. Paul had routine half-court swing passes tipped and intercepted, and the Clippers erased several possessions with careless offensive fouls.

Credit the Mavericks' defense. Clean looks at the basket were tough to come by for the Clippers, who spent much of the night grinding out possessions in posts and in isolation at remote spots on the floor. In fact, the decisive plays of the game weren't Paul floaters, or jams by Blake Griffin, but a couple of offensive rebounds by Caron Butler during the slow grind of the game's final two minutes off two misses.

"It was huge," Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said. "The [two] offensive rebounds at the end killed us."

For the poor Mavericks, Wednesday night's loss was their 13th in 15 games. The return of Dirk Nowitzki to action just before Christmas was supposed to be the salve, but integrating him has been anything but seamless and he's still recovering from surgery on his right knee. Dallas did a nice job over the summer of assembling a roster of quality, reasonably-priced players on short contracts, but right now they look more like a set of mismatched parts than a collection of savvy vets.

The Clippers stocked up on similarly experienced players, and the formula is working.

"They've got the best leader to me right now in the league," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "Chris Paul can turn it up anytime he wants. He can take games over. They're physical. They've got shooters. ... They've got all the tools, all the weapons a good team needs to have."

With all those assets, the Clippers continue to captivate a city that once saw them as nothing more than a sideshow. Suddenly the narrative of the woebegone franchise making good has turned -- the Clippers are simply good, period.

Dimes past: Dec. 23 | 25 | 26 | 28-29 | 30 | 31 | Jan. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8

2. Around The Association

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?