On paper, the Los Angeles Clippers should be contenders.
In reality, they got eliminated from the playoffs in the first round — they got up 2-0 on Memphis then were swept out of the playoffs. The Clippers started that series with a good plan, the Grizzlies adjusted and Los Angeles had no counters. They went no farther than the Lakers, Hawks or Celtics.
Los Angeles had a good offseason. Now they have shooters — J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley — to go with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They have depth (Jamal Crawford was in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation last year). They have the highest paid coach in the NBA in Doc Rivers.
With that the Clippers have high expectations — and Rivers is embracing them. He told the Los Angeles Times he wants the team to live up to the challenge.
“The expectations are great. I don’t want us to shrink from that at all. I don’t want us to run from that,” he said. “But what we’ve got to get our guys to understand is expectations are one thing. Realization is a whole different thing, and just because you’re expected to do anything doesn’t mean you’ve arrived.
“We have not arrived. We didn’t win a playoff series last year. So we have a lot of work to do as a group. We should expect to do that work. We have to expect that it’s going to be much harder and we have to embrace it and do it.”
Rivers wants changes — despite that athleticism the Clippers were 19th in the NBA in pace of play. The Clippers averaged three fewer possessions per game than their older building mates the Lakers. The Clippers also struggled at time at the ends of games.
“As athletic as we are, we didn’t run enough. We have to get up and down the floor more offensively. We have to do a better job of our spacing offensively. And we have to find a way to close games. Over anything, that’s what stands out. We have to execute as a group better. Each guy has to buy into that execution, and so there’s things we have to do.”
As I have said before, the offense isn’t going to be an issue for the Clippers — they were fourth best in the NBA in points per possession last year and they added good shooters to space the floor. They will be a top three NBA offense (and maybe No. 1). Where Rivers has to improve the team is defense, that is where the inconsistencies cost them at the end of games.
If Rivers gets his faster pace, his improved defense and better execution at the end of games he will have earned that $7 million a year contract. And the Clippers will be serious contenders.