The National Basketball Association’s season isn’t even a month in and there has already been an incredible amount of entertainment, both on and off the court. Topics like small forward Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors, the comparisons of Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James to Michael Jordan and shooting guard Dwyane Wade’s departure from Miami to play for the Chicago Bulls have flooded discussions in the media and amongst fans—but now they are fading into new drama and storylines of the 2016-17 season.
To many fans before the start of the season, there was little doubt about what teams would meet in the finals. The regular season was more of a formality than anything in order to make any team not named the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors feel that they might get lucky.
It’s understandable as to why fans felt this way. After all, the Warriors added superstar and 2014 MVP Durant to start in one of the most talented starting lineups ever seen in the NBA. As for the Cavs, they are firing on all cylinders, with James still dominating the game in every way imaginable.
With all of this attention on the Warriors and Cavaliers, however, a casual fan might be surprised that neither of these two teams currently have the best record. That title goes to the Los Angeles Clippers, who have shocked the NBA by starting off their season with a 10-1 record, showcasing the cohesiveness of the entire team.
Star point guard Chris Paul has been showing fans why many people consider him to be the best floor general in basketball. He has been setting up his teammates to score easy baskets—averaging 8.5 assists per game—and is creating chaos and fast breaks by averaging 2.9 steals per game.
Paul’s teammate and fellow superstar, power forward Blake Griffin, has been an offensive dynamo that can punish opponents in the post, step out and hit a shot when left open. This isn’t even to mention the vicious dunks that Griffin is capable of making. At times, it is nearly impossible for defenses to plan for him.
The Clippers have made it to the playoffs for the past five years in a row, but have never made it out of the second round, despite consistently having one of the best season records in the NBA. This year, it looks like the Clippers could compete with Golden State in the Conference Finals and finally face the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.
Despite the Warriors dominant performances over the Clippers in the past, the Clippers might have an opportunity to exploit a new weakness of the Warriors this year: their utter lack of an interior defense. Due to the Durant signing, the Warriors were forced to trade away Andrew Bogut, their tough, defensive-minded center. This has left the Warriors vulnerable against offensively talented big-men.
The Clippers, however, have just that in both Griffin—who can back down defenders or speed around them—and center DeAndre Jordan, who is quite possibly the best in the NBA at finishing alley-oop lobs and embarrassing opposing defenses.
Defensively, Paul has been one of the more effective matchups at stopping—or at least slowing down—Warriors point guard Steph Curry by playing him physically and not giving him an inch to get off that lethal three-point shot. Power forward Luc Mbah a Moute has also flourished as a perimeter defender at the small forward position for the Clippers, giving them a little more security around the perimeter.
Jordan, the anchor of the defense, patrols the paint quickly and fearsomely, blocking shots and making players driving to the basket think twice before putting up a shot. Jordan’s ability to protect the paint is already established and has earned him a spot in the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the past two seasons.
While it’s hard not to get swept up into the sensation that is the Warriors, it is important to keep in mind that there are still 29 other teams that are willing to sacrifice anything it takes to defeat such a fearsome opponent—and none more so than the Clippers. Their ability to score in a variety of ways—along with their bevy of superb defenders—certainly makes Clippers-Warriors matchups a must-watch this season.