Sometimes all you need is clarification to set things back on their proper course as the Los Angeles Clippers have demonstrated over the past couple of weeks. After being perpetual cellar dwellers in the Association for the past few years, the team put together a roster that was the envy of many opposing general managers this past off-season. Los Angeles claimed Chauncey Billups off of waivers, signed Free Agent Caron Butler and traded with the New Orleans Hornets to acquire point guard Chris Paul. The trio along with All-Star power forward Blake Griffin got the club off to their best start in years and spent a great deal of the campaign leading the Pacific Division.
Things started to turn sour in early February after the veteran Billups tore his left Achilles’ tendon in a win over the Orlando Magic, ending his season. As late March rolled along, they had reverted to playing like the hapless Clippers of old; with a record of 5-5 in their last ten contests; amidst rumors that the team had quit on bench boss Vinny Del Negro in hopes of getting him fired. Although Los Angeles was the fourth seed in the West at that point, they were in very real danger of falling out of the Playoff chase if they did not start racking up some wins.
A similar situation had played out on the East Coast, as New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni had lost the support of his roster and handed in his resignation while passing the reins to his assistant Mike Woodson, a move that revitalized that franchise. The Clippers would take a different route however, when Team Owner Donald Sterling gave his coach a vote of confidence and told reporters he would finish out the season as the team’s bench boss.
Sterling told reporters late last month ” “I like him. I usually follow the advice of my people, and I think they care for him, like him and want him to succeed. And I think he will. Would I like more wins? I’d like more. I’d like the players to develop more; I’d like to play better. But then I have great expectations, and to a certain extent they’ve been realized.”
Realizing that they would have to deal with Del Negro whether they wanted to or not; the team started turning things around; going 9-2 since ending a three game slide. They may have gotten their biggest win of the regular season on Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena as Paul drove the lane putting the rock through the hole with 8.8 seconds to play to give the Clippers an exciting 100-98 victory over one of the best teams in the Association this season.
Los Angeles is still the fourth seed in the Western Conference which would give them home court advantage in the first round of the Post Season; holding a half game edge over the Memphis Grizzlies who currently are in fifth. Barring a total collapse however, they will make the Playoffs as they hold a three game lead over Dallas, Houston and Denver and are ahead of number nine Utah by four and a half games with just eight games left on their schedule.
This could turn out to be just a temporary truce between the players and their coach; making the best of a bad situation. Or this team could bond with Del Negro if they have a strong run in the Playoffs. Those are subjects for a future conversation; the only thing that should be on the minds right now on any Clippers employee is what this team can do the rest of the year.