Los Angeles Clippers: In First Place But With Injuries – A Tough Road Trip Awaits


December 1, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) controls the ball against the defense of Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So far, with roughly a fifth of the NBA season gone, these Clippers are about where I expected them; in first place with a 12-6 record in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division.

Not that it matters at this still-early point, but Doc Rivers’ team is standing two games ahead of  the legitimate Golden State Warriors.

If the season ended today, the Clippers would be a fifth seed in the playoffs behind the San Antonio Spurs, the Portland Trailblazers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Houston Rockets, who at 13-6 have definitely benefitted from the arrival of Dwight Howard and are a half-game ahead of the Clips.

Not surprisingly, Blake Griffin is ranked in the league’s top 15 with his 20.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game (which puts him fifth), while Chris Paul is continuing to be the glue that hold the team together as his NBA-leading 12.1 assists per contest has reinforced him as the league’s best point guard.

Paul’s 18.9 points per game isn’t too shabby either as he is second to Griffin in that category.

DeAndre Jordan has done well in the post as his 12.8 rebounds a game ranks him first on the team and second in the NBA to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, with his per-game scoring average sitting at ten.

And Jamal Crawford, if he keeps it up, will get some strong consideration for the Sixth Man Award as he’s averaging 16 points a game – third on the team to Griffin and Paul – off the bench.

Anyone can see that this is a team that has risen up from their former status as not only the joke of the NBA, but the joke of American professional sports in general, but…

They still have a hump to get over if they want to be true championship contenders as right now, they are still a notch below San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

As well as a team which may only be 8-8, but has been a thorn in the Clippers’ side since last year’s playoffs: the Memphis Grizzlies, who the Clips have already lost to once this year, a 106-102 setback at Staples Center on November 18.

Injuries are a concern as their bench is depleted with the loss of Matt Barnes, who suffered a retinal tear in his left eye against the Grizzlies who’s expected to return soon, and especially J.J. Redick, the shooting specialist whose fracture of  a bone in his right hand and tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament will sideline him for six to eight weeks.

December 1, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Indiana Pacers power forward David West (21) moves to the basket against the defense of Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Redick’s 15.8 points per game – fourth on the team – will be sorely missed as starting on Wednesday night in Atlanta, they will embark on a seven-game road trip through the east.

At first glance, this trip wouldn’t seem to be that tough as the 8-8 Grizzlies, who the Clippers play in Memphis on Thursday the 5th, have the best record among the seven teams they will face.

However, east coast trips are always challenging, particularly back-to-back games, which L.A. will have on Wednesday against the Hawks and Thursday in Memphis as well as  December 11 and 12 when they go to Boston to play Rivers’ old team, the Celtics, and to Brooklyn to face the Nets.

The Celtics may only be 7-12 and rebuilding after losing Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and the Nets may be worse with their 5-12 mark, but I’m sure that the Clippers won’t be taking either of them lightly – nor any of the other teams on this roadie.

As such, if L.A. gets five wins out of this swing that would be excellent and at least keep them on top of the Pacific Division if not solidify their position there.

With the mediocre-to-awful records that their upcoming opponents have, it can be done.

It’s up to these Clippers to take advantage of it.