Although the Golden State of Mind community was (understandably) very excited about the Golden State Warriors' prospects for the 2014-15 season from the start, the consensus among the national media was that they weren't even assured of the top spot in the Pacific Division.
Not that we should hold it against anybody who picked against the Warriors having a historic start to the season, but it's safe to say that things look quite a bit different in hindsight. So to get us ready for the Christmas Day matchup between the two teams, I got in touch with Steve Perrin of SB Nation's Clips Nation to get a sense of what he thinks about the current state of affairs in L.A. and the outlook for the Clippers moving forward.
Q&A with Clips Nation
1. GSoM: Without looking back at every prediction, the consensus entering the season seemed to be that the Clips were the favorites to win the Pacific Division even if the Warriors were close. With the Warriors on top of the entire conference now - obviously, there's room for argument as to whether they're playing over their heads a bit - and the Clippers five games behind in the division, what's your take on the first quarter or so of the season? Have you been disappointed, satisfied, or impressed so far?
Steve Perrin: Of all the major sports, there's more consistency in the NBA than any other. Teams that are good one season are good the next season, barring some major changes. In MLB players get hot or cold, in the NFL there are so many player changes every season -- but in the NBA, players are who they are, more or less, and teams stay the same with minor improvements or declines from year to year. So if the Clippers were six games better than the Warriors in 2013-2014, and neither team made fundamental changes, then sure, the Clippers would win the Pacific. That was always the safe bet, because that's just how the NBA works -- or always has been anyway.
The really strange thing here is that, on paper, the Clippers are better -- maybe even a lot better -- than they were last season at this time. People forget that their front court reserves were guys like Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison at this time last year. You might not be a huge fan of Spencer Hawes or Glen Davis, but can we all agree that they're better than Byron Mullens?
Some pundits sensed that the Warriors were going to be better -- but this? This doesn't happen. 51 win teams don't become 70 win teams. Hell, they don't become 60 win teams. So this would have been tough to predict, and I'm at a loss to explain it. Curry is who he is -- we knew he was great. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have taken big steps forward, and the question is whether it's sustainable. (My take -- Klay yes, Dray no.)
The Clippers have been disappointing so far, no question. The expectation was that in the second season under Doc Rivers, they'd hit the ground running, and that simply hasn't been the case.
It's a long season. It's entirely possible that the Clippers will go through a white hot stretch at some point, while the Warriors will have a stretch of lackluster play eventually. I expect the race to come down to the wire, but we'll see. The Warriors are for real, there's little question about that.
2. GSoM: Despite the Clippers' disappointing start, they're currently first in the league in shooting efficiency (eFG%) just ahead of the Warriors. What do you think is going well for the Clippers so far in that department? How might that cause problems for the Warriors?
SP: The funny thing about the Clippers shooting numbers is that they've been absolutely dreadful from the perimeter at times this season. During their lackluster start, they couldn't make a three pointer to save their lives. But when they're on, they are a juggernaut.
The Clippers were number (one) in offensive efficiency last season, they had a ton of offensive weapons then, and they have more now. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin present problems for defenses, and you have to pack the lane to minimize those issues -- that leaves shooters open.
I actually like GSW's defense against what the Clippers do well, especially the wacky Livingston-Thompson-Barnes-Iggy-Green lineup they sometimes play. Green plays Griffin tough, and the Warriors can switch every pick and roll with that lineup. They also have length and quickness to close out on shooters. The Clippers could try to punish them with DeAndre Jordan, but obviously force feeding Jordan is not the Clippers' favorite thing to do.
But it may just come down to whether the Clippers are hitting shots. If J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford and others are hitting threes, it becomes very, very tough to stop the Clips.
3. GSoM: Speaking of the Clippers' perimeter rotation, I talked a bit with your colleague Johnny Stark about the Clips' small forward situation before the last meeting between these two. How have things progressed on that front since that early November game and is this something that might require a midseason move to even get back to the second round in a competitive west?
SP: Fortunately for the Clippers, Matt Barnes has bounced back a bit to the form in was in last season. Unfortunately, that's still not great. Even more unfortunately, the backup situation is a complete train wreck. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Reggie Bullock and Hedo Turkoglu have all gotten their shot at reserve minutes at the three, and none have been the answer. Doc Rivers has also tried going small and playing Jamal Crawford, a two guard, at small forward.
The biggest problem is defense -- the Clippers don't have anything that even remotely resembles a wing stopper, and that's a big problem in a conference with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and James Harden, etc. etc.
The Last Meeting
Curry, Warriors depth overwhelmed the Clippers
The Golden State Warriors crushed the Los Angeles Clippers 121-104 behind a fine Stephen Curry performance and incredible depth back on November 5.
Red-hot Warriors take down the ice-cold Clippers
•Clips NationThe Warriors were on fire as a team and even if the Clippers played up to the standard we expect, the Dubs still might have pulled out the win. When a team hits that many threes with that high of a percentage, opponents are going to be in trouble.
The Last Meeting
The Clippers will do what they can to address the issue, but they don't have many options. They're hard-capped and can't offer anyone any more than the vet's minimum. Nor do they have much in the way of trade chips -- unless they can sell someone on the future potential of Bullock or rookie C.J. Wilcox.
They'll talk to Josh Smith and they'd take a chance on him at the minimum if they can sell him on the idea of having a role on a good team while giving up the money he could make elsewhere -- but Smith is not really what looking for. And Andrei Kirilenko, who will apparently not be playing basketball until at least February, is clearly on their radar.
There will be other players who become available before the trade deadline, and the Clippers will sniff around anyone who can play the three. Last season they picked up Glen Davis and Danny Granger after those guys were bought out. Each was helpful, though neither was a game-changer. This season, they may need to find a game-changer.
4. GSoM: Veering away from this Christmas matchup, one team that believes it has found its game-changer is the Dallas Mavericks, which just acquired Rajon Rondo last week. They were already sitting right behind the Clippers and Warriors at third in shooting efficiency - Rondo's shooting certainly won't help that, but his playmaking ability could in theory. How do you think that trade changes the pecking order in the conference or the outlook in the competition for top-4 seeds?
SP: Can we all just agree that the balance of power between the conferences is a joke? As far as I can tell, all four first round WC series will be about the same as the East Finals. As of now (and I'm not sure I quite believe in either Houston or Portland) there are eight teams in the West who could win it all, at least on paper. And any one of those eight could lose in the first round, because, guess what, they're going to be playing against another one of those eight. It's just brutal. Forget top four seeds -- the Clippers could win a franchise record 58 games and be a six seed. It's just crazy.
I think Rondo makes Dallas' ceiling higher -- but I also think it's worth asking whether he's a good fit for them. Your old friend Monta Ellis has been terrific this season, and both Monta and Dirk Nowitzki are best with the ball in their hands. But Rondo is pretty ball dominant as well. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, but he'll have his work cut out for him making all those pieces fit together.
As Zach Lowe pointed out, Dallas already had the highest rated offense in the league this season before the trade -- so how much headroom do they realistically have on that side of the ball? And Rondo isn't the defender he once was (he's always been a guy who is flashy, but probably takes a few too many chances on D). So we'll see on the Rondo thing.
No matter how you slice it, there are no easy first round match ups. Who do you want to see in the first round?
5. GSoM: Ending on a positive note, despite being sixth in the West right now, Nate Silver's recent "championship forecast" still had the Clippers as the team with the second brightest future behind the Warriors. Yet he notes that his model leaves out things like cap considerations, injury histories, coaching, etc. So given those factors, are you as excited about the Clippers' future as Silver is?
Nate Silver is an awfully bright guy, so who am I to argue with him?
Look, I'm saying Silver is bright, but his methodology here isn't rocket science. The NBA is a superstar league, and there are a lot of things beyond your control in this type of analysis. He's looking at now through 2019, and the fact is the Clippers have Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, both more or less in their primes, both signed until 2018. There's not a lot else to say - that simple fact gives them a chance each of the next four seasons, and there aren't a lot of teams about whom you can say that.
For far more on the Clippers - and my responses to Steve - check out Clips Nation.