Nothin' but Net: Clippers making a championship push

Philadelphia, PA ( - With all of the shifting in personnel going on in the NBA over the last week, one thing has become very clear to the masses:

The Los Angeles Clippers are going for it all.

On trade deadline day, the Clippers made two seemingly inconsequential moves, trading Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens for a Euro-stashed player and a future second-rounder.

Yawn, right? What would it matter, trading the two least-used things in Los Angeles outside of sunscreen?

It opened up two roster spots, and in doing so, opened the door to a possible title run.

With those new vacancies, the Clippers, and really Doc Rivers, the head coach and head of personnel, took huge advantage of the burgeoning market. Everyone knew players were going to be bought out of their contracts, and Rivers pounced.

The first domino came in the form of Glen Davis, formerly of the Orlando Magic.

Next up, although still not official, is Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers and, if you want to be technical, the Philadelphia 76ers. After trading for him, the Sixers bought him out a few days later.

Those are huge pieces for a Clippers team that is already near the top of the standings. L.A. is four games ahead of the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division, but the Clips are tied for fourth in the Western Conference.

By virtue of winning the Pacific, the Clippers will be guaranteed a home playoff seeding in at least the first round. That's not the carrot at the end of the maze, though.

The Clippers were among a handful of teams believed to have realistic championship hopes at the start of the season. It's easy to see why. They have Chris Paul, a top-five player in the league, and Blake Griffin, who is probably in that top-12 mix.

Talent wasn't the issue for the Clippers last season. Coaching was. Vinny Del Negro set a franchise record for regular-season wins, but with all due respect, he's not Phil Jackson.

Few active coaches had championship pedigrees. Rivers was one, so the Clips gave up a first-round pick to the Boston Celtics to get Doc to Hollywood.

The Clippers brought in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to fortify the wings and improve on shooting.

L.A. did just fine, but not fine enough to be a bona fide player in May and June.

Redick has only played half of the Clippers' games this season and now has a back injury. Lingering back problems are tough to overcome, but when he has been out there, Redick has averaged 15.7 points and shot 39.6 percent from long range.

Dudley has been completely ineffective, averaging only 7.5 points.

Is this infusion of talent enough to make the Clippers contenders?

Davis will help tremendously. He is a Rivers favorite from their days together in Boston and helps a frontline rotation in desperate need of help. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan both rank in the top 20 in minutes and the only realistic second-unit guy, prior to Davis' signing, was Ryan Hollins.

Davis is a good mid-range shooter and a good defender. He does a lot of little things that help good teams succeed, and, if the Clips are down in the fourth quarter, he can replace Jordan and provide more of an offensive punch.

"It is going to give us more depth at the 4 position," Rivers said after Davis' debut on Wednesday. "He's a bruiser, banger, rebounder. He's just a unique type of player. For as big as he is, he moves well. He can play defense and he can shoot. He did a lot of little things that help winning teams get over the hump."

Davis is a perfect fit, and, at 28, still capable of playing significant minutes.

Granger is probably not capable of going 25 a night if needed. His value will be determined by several other factors out of his control.

If Redick misses significant time with this back ailment (nine games and counting), Jamal Crawford has been pressed into starting duty. He's close to a 20-point scorer, so that transition doesn't set the Clips back.

The move cripples the Clippers in bench scoring. Matt Barnes has moved into Dudley's former starting spot, so the second unit wing play is led by Darren Collison, Dudley, Hedo Turkoglu (2.6 ppg) and Willie Green (4.7 ppg).

That's not exactly threatening. Add Granger to that mix, and it improves some. Granger averaged 8.3 ppg in 29 games this season with the Pacers and can still score in small doses. That basically washes away any need for Green and Hedo.

Davis and Granger represent two major upgrades, but will it be enough?

The Clippers still have work to do if they want to truly threaten the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs, let alone the Indiana Pacers or the two-time defending champs, the Miami Heat.

First, the Clips need to get that third seed, instead of fourth, where they sit now. A third seed will guarantee a first-round matchup with either the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns or Memphis Grizzlies. The Mavs are tough and Memphis is playoff-tested, but those foes represent an easier task than facing either the Houston Rockets or Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

A third seed also, most likely, would generate a second-round battle with the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, the Clips are 1-2 this season against the reigning Western Conference champs, but San Antonio seems less-equipped to best the Clippers. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich are war- time veterans, but age is creeping up and the Spurs have lost a ton of games to injury this season. They might be as vulnerable as they've ever been.

Oklahoma City is a different subject, but the Clippers are 2-1 against the Thunder. They just won in OKC on Sunday and play similar styles. Over two weeks, the Clips could do just enough.

L.A. is not the favorite to win the title, and probably not even favored to make it there. Over the past week, though, the Clippers have put themselves in a better position.

They have work to do. Rivers needs to try to cut down on minutes for Paul, Griffin and Jordan, which is a tricky balancing act considering they need to finish as high as possible in the regular season.

But, have faith in Rivers. He had to juggle and balance more than any coach in recent history when he had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in Boston.

However, the Clippers' studs are in more of their prime than those Celtics mentioned. Paul is a perennial top-five finisher in the MVP race. When Paul was out with injury, Griffin emerged as a multi-faceted beast and finally merits the superstar status bestowed upon him too soon. Even Jordan has turned into a defensive animal and rebounding machine.

The Clips are close. Their moves inch them closer. It's an important six weeks to even get to the playoffs. Then, Rivers will earn his pay.


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