Updated: January 2, 2013, 7:45 AM ET

1. Will Lack Of Identity Help Or Hurt Clippers?

By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com

Every team wants a calling card. The Detroit Pistons had the Jordan Rules, the Boston Celtics had Ubuntu. Whether it's run-and-gun basketball, pressure defense, or whatever else, teams love putting pride in something they can do better than everyone else.

Many of the great teams in the NBA already have an identity established, but for 17 straight games, the Clippers have stormed the league by actually assuming the identity of their opponents. Even with a target affixed to their back as the wins racked up, the Clippers were like a great spy who somehow managed to hide in plain sight. But how?

[+] EnlargeCP3
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

There are different theories, and probably a few involve the shadow the Lakers' mess casts, but more likely it's because the Clippers weren't rattling off wins behind a specific brand of basketball. There was no Tom Thibodeau defensive system, no Grit and Grind, no Triangle Offense -- just a team that happily accepted its opponent's terms of engagement for an entire month. You want to play fast? Please do. You want to play half-court basketball? Chris Paul thanks you. There was no style the Clippers couldn't and wouldn't embrace during the streak.

Eventually, of course, that streak had to end. And in that sense, it's fitting that Denver was the team to finally catch the Clippers. No group leverages a home-court advantage with up-and-down play quite like the Nuggets, who now own an impressive streak of their own with eight straight home wins.

Even though the Clippers were busted this time, in a game they shot a very Nuggets-ish 5-for-29 from behind the arc, the questions about their future remain. Can the Clippers, a team that's simple by design, a team that's so loose and undefined on both ends of the court, rattle off another winning streak in May or June? Was this a fluke, or is it sustainable? Can they accomplish something like this when lurking down the playoff road there's a grand tactician like Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who will have multiple off-days to pin the Clippers down and force them into becoming what he wants them to be?

The answers aren't readily available, but it's easy to recall the results of last season's Clippers, a team filled with players who were talented but more limited in their scope of abilities -- the Reggie Evans and Nick Young types. That team went through a gruesome series in Memphis, where they played the definition of Grizzlies basketball. Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph sumo wrestled for seven games, but the Clippers emerged victorious, broken but not beaten. Somehow, they had managed to defeat the Grizzlies at their own game. Identity theft.

But immediately thereafter, the Spurs rolled in and unceremoniously dispatched the Clippers, with bargain bin guys like Danny Green issuing a good portion of the damage. They threw the defensive playbook at Paul. They used offensive sets the Clippers had never even seen before. The result, as you may recall, was a Spurs sweep and a second-round exit for the Clips.

So while the 17-game winning streak was certainly impressive, it provides only clues and no definitive answers to the questions left over from last season's playoff exit. We can assume the Clippers will have a deeper bench, especially once Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill return to action. We can assume the talent level is improved, maybe even vastly so, and that the players will perform as such. And with a reasonable amount of certainty, we can also assume that whoever lines up across from Paul and Eric Bledsoe will be put through the wood-chipper. These are all assumptions the win streak lends an awful lot of credence to.

And of course, there are things you can't argue with, like the Clippers still having the league's best record and being one of the only teams with a top-five offense and defense in terms of efficiency. There are complex statistical formulas that say the Clippers are handily the best team in the league, with no bias inserted. You can look at John Hollinger's Playoff Odds and see that the Clippers are currently the favorite to win the NBA championship. There are a lot of very, very smart people that will tell you current performance dictates future success.

But at least for right now, simply "being better" is enough of an identity for the Clippers.

D.J. Foster writes for ClipperBlog, part of the TrueHoop Network.

Dimes past: Dec. 14-15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-22 | 23 | 25 | 26 | 28-29 | 30 | 31

2. Around The Association

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?