INSIDER: CLIPPERS SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
The Los Angeles Clippers own the best record in the NBA.
Twenty-eight games, or a wink beyond one-third, of the 2012-13 season have gone by the boards and the Clippers sit atop the league more than 15 games into the season for the first time in team history.
It’s the day after Christmas and there is still a sizeable stash of presents generously spread under the tree.
The Clippers (22-6) have won 14 consecutive times, a franchise record. They have the league’s best road record (9-3) and secured another team record for most victories away from home in a row (six). They are seeking just the third undefeated month in NBA history. They have won a league-high 15 games by 10 points or more, two short of the number of double-digit wins from all of last season.
The knock on the Clippers during their league-high 14-game winning streak, as silly as it may seem, is that the cumulative record of their opponents has made it easier.
As though winning 14 consecutive times in the NBA is something done with “ease.” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, whose team has lost to the Clippers twice by an average of 22.5 points during the streak, doesn’t think so.
“You win 12 games in a row for a reason,” he said before the Suns trailed by as many as 31 points Sunday.
Gentry called the Clippers "the best team we’ve played.”
“They have all the ingredients to be a championship team," he continued.
Two days later, Nuggets head coach George Karl said the Clippers have the “moved into what I call the top five in basketball.”
Perhaps, they are right.
A winning streak of 14 games or longer has occurred three times, including the current Clippers streak, since 2009-10. And while their opponents along the way have compiled a combined record of 154-232 (.399) through Christmas, the streak followed a tough, home-heavy schedule in the opening month where they beat the Heat, Hawks, Grizzlies, Bulls and Spurs among others.
Despite the comparatively “easy” December schedule, the Clippers still own the tenth toughest strength of schedule in the league. The point: it all balances out.
Through 28 games, the Clippers have a relative percent index (RPI) of .577, second in the league to the Miami Heat. Essentially, RPI combines team winning percentage (25%), opponents’ average winning percentage (50%) and opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage (25%). It is a stat-geek’s way of measuring how good a team is without using his or her eyes.
But actually watching the way the team wins may be even more telling. Against the Suns, they put together an overwhelming close to the second quarter and tore the game off its hinges in the third, seizing a 31-point lead entering the fourth. A 42-22 second quarter against the Nuggets on Christmas blew things open again, flipping a one-point deficit to a 19-point halftime lead. They do it with flair, with a ruggedness and a defense that’s held eight of the last nine opponents below 43% shooting.
They are the league’s most frightening transition game and seem to have an unabashed willingness to put the proverbial stake through their opponent’s heart. Karl called the Clippers a “beat ‘em up team” and said they have the best combination of size and athleticism in the league.
They also own a point differential of +9.7. During their month-long winning streak that number has ballooned to +15.4 with 10 of those 14 wins coming by at least 12 points and only one, a 105-104 win at Utah being decided in the final minute.
Perhaps, that’s the most telling part of the Clippers’ dominant run. Easy schedule, difficult schedule, does it really matter when the margin is that one-sided?