Greatness in Progress
They may be known as Lob City, but the Clippers will have you know they’re ‘a complete team.’
by Chris O’Leary / @olearychris
If for some unfortunate reason in your life you were exposed to Jay Leno monologues, you knew the L.A. Clippers, even if you didn’t know basketball.
“The NBA season tipped off tonight,” Leno would say, throwing the lob to himself. “And with that, the L.A. Clippers are mathematically eliminated from the Playoffs.”
It’s one of thousands of digs taken at the Clippers by Leno and other proprietors of cheap laughs since the team arrived in L.A. in 1984. With each dig, the dirt was sprinkled on to the Clippers’ grave: a mountain of futility, dysfunction and irrelevance that left the team in the shadows of the Lakers, the Kings, the Dodgers, the NFL, Hollywood, the porn industry and whatever else the city has had to offer over the years.
On Thursday night, what was once perceived as impossible unfolded piece by piece, a new mountain decimating a lay of the land that’s as sure as the Clippers’ TV announcers’ reliance on Lawler’s Law. The once lowly Clippers laid a 29-point beating on the Boston Celtics for their 15th win in a row. Marv Albert was courtside calling the game for a national audience on TNT. Staples Center was packed with 19,552 fans. And now for the sentence that you never thought you’d read:
The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the NBA.
This is more than the standings turning 11 words of what was once hyperbole into fact. The Clippers are 25-6, have won 17 games in a row and are stealing the show in a city that’s built on stories and drama.
Before the Clippers ran away from the Suns on December 23, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry had no problem anointing the Clippers as what they are.
“They’ve got the best bench in the League and it’s not even close,” he begins, and points to the visiting L.A. media as everyone is huddled in the coach’s office. “These guys see them all the time and they can tell you that their bench is just as important as their starters.
“They have a tendency with Bledsoe and Matt Barnes and those guys in the game, that’s a lot of the time when they get separation, in the second quarter and at the end of the game when [the bench] closes out games.
“Just the fact that Blake doesn’t have to average 25 points a game and Chris Paul, obviously Chris has the capability of averaging as many points as he wants.
“They’re probably the best team in the League. They’re playing like it right now and with their bench there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have an opportunity to win a Championship.”
If you’ve grown up watching the Clippers draft high and crash hard (shout out to Kevin Harlan), this season will take some getting used to. This is a new day and these are new times. Chris Paul is moving mountains, with Blake Griffin Mozgoving all over anyone who wants to make a Clippers joke now.
GOOD KIDS, LOB CITY
You can’t escape your fate. Simple as that. Whatever you believe in, whomever you believe in, there are things in this world that are meant to be—no matter how hard you fight them.
Lob City’s big bang moment came on December 14, 2011. When Chris Paul’s trade to the Lakers was nixed by David Stern five days earlier, the best point guard in the game landed in the same building, a few doors down from purple and gold, wearing red, white and royal blue. That was when everything changed.
Blake Griffin heard the news and because he’s wired that way, bolted upward. He chest bumped DeAndre Jordan and the words rocketed out of his mouth, down into the eyes and ears of the national media. Lob City was born, despite how much Griffin and the team may dislike the concept of essentially becoming Showtime 2.0.
After that win in Phoenix, Kendrick Lamar’s m.A.A.d city blasts in the visitors’ room at America Airways Center. The Clippers soak in their 13th win in a row: a 103-77 game that felt over in the second quarter. The room has the easiness and confidence to it that winning brings. Lamar Odom’s head bobs along to the opening of the song. He turns to Chauncey Billups and laughs while he asks him where his grandma stays.
The core of the team is a year older and better. Paul is playing at the MVP level he’s capable of. Griffin has added a mid-range game and a handful of slippery post moves that leave him un-guardable when he’s got it going. Jordan is Lob City’s highest-reaching tower and is rebounding, swatting and dunking everything that gets into his airspace.
With the bench shored up in one offseason, the Clippers know they’ve got something special. Paul says it’s the Clippers’ defense that has lifted them into the NBA’s upper stratosphere. They were expected to score and they’re doing that, at seventh in the League with 102.2 points per game and at second in the League in assists, with 23.6. As of Sunday night, they were the fourth-stingiest team in the League (92.1 points against) and led the League in steals (10.8 per game).
“Our defense and also our synergy,” he says. “I think me and Blake know each other a lot better now, and me and D.J. We’ve got a year under our belts and we know each other a lot better.”
The Clippers don’t like the idea of Lob City, but in Year 2 they’re crafting it into what they want it to be. Like any city, it’s growing and building an identity. This isn’t just dunks, crazy passes and shots pinned to the glass. Lob City has added infrastructure and it’s thriving.
“There’s so much more to this team than Lob City,” Billups says. “I’m sure that’s fun and enjoyable to the fans, I think we enjoy it too, but we’re a basketball team. We can beat you in a lot of different ways.”
“We do have a lot of lobs but we have a complete team,” adds Barnes, a big and feisty part of that new infrastructure. “We’re improving every game on the defensive end and we know that holding the defensive end down there is what allows us to get in transition and get those lobs.”