The original plan was to wait for the Clippers to end this challenging stretch of the schedule and take stock of whatever remained of their spirits before declaring redemption. But then came Monday night in San Antonio, after several other nights in other places, and the original plan went out the window.
The Clippers beat the Spurs for the second time in 12 days. And the Heat. And, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Trail Blazers. Plus the Hawks. In the six games since doubts were raised about their focus, they produced six wins.
So, taking stock: The Clippers are more of a legitimate threat in the West than ever because they responded as a title contender should.
Being placed in the top tier of the West as the regular season opened, as the Clippers should have been by all, is one thing. Actually digging deep to earn the status is quite another … and they just broke out the big shovels. That makes this is no ordinary win streak.
They were inconsistent very early in a way that had nothing to do with missing the injured Chauncey Billups or Grant Hill, nothing to do with working in several key newcomers, or nothing to do with the schedule. They’d beat the Grizzlies and beat the Lakers … and then lose to the Warriors and Cavaliers.
The Clippers had a veteran team and the kind of leadership other teams dream of, and yet they couldn’t sustain the energy at the start of the season, when routines were being established. What would that say for their focus in February and March?
Players clearly understood this and answered. Pushing back began with a home win against the Spurs, which would have been response enough — except that the Clippers pushing. After the bookend win Monday night at San Antonio, they had improved to 8-2, not to mention 5-0 against the Heat, Grizzlies, Lakers and Spurs.
These are still treacherous times on the schedule – the Thunder, Nets and Hawks are up next, all on the road (with Atlanta as the second night of a back-to-back). It is also still very early on the calendar. After an undependable first week, the last six games are an important barometer … as long as the Clippers don’t completely go in the tank the next three.
It is particularly early on the calendar in their case, given what so far has been the season-long absence of Billups (torn Achilles’ tendon) and Hill (bruised knee), with no target date for a return. The Clippers’ bench has a clear advantage over most teams, Chris Paul is playing at a high level and Jamal Crawford provides instant offense as sixth man. The defense is going good, too. But there is still no way of knowing how good the Clippers can be, not until they return to full strength.
Their response after that slow start is a good indication, though, of their talent and, more importantly, their mindset.