No, I donâ€™t think it will last â€” the Clippers will not continue on pace to win 60+ games, they will come back down to earth. That doesnâ€™t mean they canâ€™t make the playoffs â€” if they stay healthy they have a good shot. They could even win the Pathetic Pacific this season.
But they are still the Clippers. Franchises with bad owners donâ€™t win long term.
That said, Clipper management made one smart move this off-season â€” Sam Cassell. Iâ€™ve already written one â€œwhat Cassell brings to the Clippersâ€ story for Courtside times. Not that Cassell isnâ€™t on the down slope of his career, his numbers dipped last season in Minnesota and they have dropped even farther this season: scoring 18.3 points per 40 minutes played (it was 21 last season, above 22 the three seasons before that), he is shooting 42.2% (eFG%, down from 48.7%), and he has never been a defensive presence.
But he is still a huge step up from Rick Brunson and the other overmatched players the Clippers had at the point last season. (Shaun Livingston is good when healthy, which he is not right now.) The point was the Clippers weakest spot offensively with a team PER of just 11.9 from the position last season. The aged Cassell still has a PER of 19.9 so far this year. Smush Parkerâ€™s defense will again be a key to the game, contain Cassell and you have a much better chance to beat the Clippers.
But it is not just containing Cassellâ€™s scoring, itâ€™s his passing that is really driving the Clips. He is averaging an impressive 9.6 assists per 40 minutes (compared to just 3.1 turnovers for the same time).
The biggest beneficiary of that is the slimmed-down Elton Brand, who is having a career year so far â€” averaging 25 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes, shooting 59.3% and with a PER of 30.1, third best in the league so far. MVP type numbers early for one of the most overlooked players in the game.
Also benefiting has been Corey Maggette, who is shooting 52% (eFG%) on the season, and Cuttino Mobley, who is shooting 49.1% and 37% from beyond the arc.
The Clippers are playing good defense this season, the other key to their success. Their early season numbers are very close to the Lakers.
Their weakest point so far this season has been just that â€” Cassell is not a good defender. Obviously he is going to have to put some of his attention into helping on Kobe, so Smush needs to have one of his better games on both ends. The backcourt may need to carry the Lakers as the Clippers have been solid defensively inside (not exactly the Lakers strong point so far this season). The Laker big guys need to both play well on defense and stay out of foul trouble. This may be a game where Bynum gets more time to play defensive minutes, something he has done fairly well.
The Clippers have been a team that has looked better on paper than on the court for years. Now they have a veteran point guard in a contract year and that has filled in a weakness and prompted a fast start. This is the kind of game the Lakers need to win, against another team from the division in the playoff hunt, if they are going to be playing more than just 82 games.
Two things worth reading to point you toward. One is a good breakdown of the triangle offense by Mike at Show Time (also there is a good piece on Odom in the offense). The other is a chance to learn more about Eric Pincus and what he does over at Yaysports.com.