Clips: Beyond wild West expectations

LOS ANGELES -- To say expectations for the Los Angeles Clippers have been heightened this season is to assume there were even expectations for this franchise to begin with.

Clippers games resulting in anything other than losses have been a cause for celebration around these parts for the past 30 years.

That quickly changed, of course, this offseason, when the long-suffering franchise acquired Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler over the span of a week and added the veteran trio to a young nucleus that included Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, along with Mo Williams.

For the first time in the team's much-maligned history it was impossible to ignore the names on the back of the red, white and blue jerseys and focus solely on the dreaded cursive name on the front.

Perhaps the "Clippers" aren't supposed to win many games, but a team with the aforementioned six players isn't supposed to lose many games, either … regardless of the jerseys they wear when stepping onto the court.

Therein lays the unrelenting, underlying theme of this season for the Clippers: Their roster is good enough to compete for a championship but, well, it's the Clippers, and the Clippers just aren't supposed to be in that conversation.

Expectations, however, grow from results, and the results so far this season -- especially during their current three-game winning streak that includes impressive performances against the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers -- suggest the Clippers will, indeed, be contenders this season.

When was the last time you can remember the Clippers being favored to beat the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, as they are heading into Tuesday night's tilt? The Clippers have won just twice in the Great Basin since April 1989 -- the month after Griffin was born.

After beating the Heat and the Lakers in consecutive games and claiming the top spot in the Pacific Division in January for the first time in their history, there is a newfound notion that the Clippers are supposed to win almost every game they play in.

It's an expectation the Lakers have lived with for the past three decades and have come as close to any team to living up to, winning 10 NBA championships during that span. Certainly few think the Clippers will go the rest of the season undefeated, but when the Clippers lose now, the reaction is more "What went wrong?" than "So … what's new?"

Normally the attendance figure is the least important number on the postgame stat sheet, but it is most telling about the Clippers' growing assumptions this season.

The Clippers have sold out all eight of their home games this season (including one in the preseason), and no sellout was more impressive than Monday's matinee against the New Jersey Nets -- a 101-91 victory for which they were without Paul and Williams. It was the perfect storm for a bad turnout: a subpar opponent, an early tipoff and the Clippers' star guard and his backup out.

None of it mattered. "Lob City" has officially become an attraction in Los Angeles.

In L.A., however, attendance is tied to expectations and results. There is simply too much to do in this city to waste our time and money on a team that isn't supposed to win and usually doesn't.

The Lakers even had a hard time drawing fans during the four seasons they missed the playoffs since moving to Los Angeles in 1960. Compare that to the Clippers, who have made the playoffs only four times since 1976, advancing past the first round once during that time.

The Clippers have already risen to such a level this season that only making it out of the first round would be a disappointment at this point. They have their sights set on maybe taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder or even the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and possibly playing the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. These are the teams the Clippers and their fans are now measuring the squad against.

As forward Blake Griffin said Saturday, "DeAndre has been here the longest, and he's been here four years. So when people say, 'Oh, the Clippers and the past 30 years,' or whatever, we don't care.

"We're worried about this year."

It's seems that Los Angeles is, too.

People here cannot completely forget about the past 30 years, but they can put it in their back pocket for now while they enjoy this season's team, which is beginning to raise the bar for this franchise, one win at a time.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.