From here on in, it’s all legit. No pretenders. No”if a couple of things go right” aspirants. No”maybe, only perhaps” hopefuls.
Real, honest-to-goodness contenders only.
The Clippers, by virtue of being said after that debut, are just one competition.
Free of the shadow cast by Donald Sterling and imbued with all the terrifying excitement and deep pockets of fresh owner Steve Ballmer, the Clips will look to lock up a top-three seed from the West again. This time, tough, they’ll hope to progress to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The majority of the responsibility falls upon the recognizable shoulders of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two players who may easily lead the Clips to another No. 1 finish in offensive performance. Together with Doc Rivers’ direction and (hopefully) another step from DeAndre Jordan, L.A. is in great position for yet another deep playoff run.
There are concerns, though.
The wing positions are somewhat weak behind J.J. Redick. Matt Barnes is slated to start at the 3, and at age 34 that there ought to be real worries that his 4.2 percent (yes, 4.2% ) shooting from long range during the preseason is less a blip and more a sign his offensive game has fallen off a cliff.
Spencer Hawes has been the group’s big offseason get, and as precious as he is as a passer and floor-spacer, he will not scare anybody on defense.
If the crime remains elite and Rivers may handle his frontcourt rotation wisely, the Clippers could be slightly better than they were a year ago. That might be enough for them to reach heights they’ve never attained.