One of the best barometers of how good you are as a team is to put yourself up against the best competition. Right now in the NBA, the Miami Heat are just that. The champs will be the team that everyone will test themselves on until they are knocked off the top. And while the Heat are 20-8 and Lebron James seems to be cruising towards another MVP, there has been another team in the NBA that teams are looking up at: The Los Angeles Clippers. Long the little brother in LA, the Clippers are in the midst of a 16 game win streak, and will try to push that to 17 tonight against Utah at home. Everyone has started to take notice, including cross town rival Kobe Bryant:
“To put together win streaks that are that long, it shows a lot of focus, it shows a lot of unity and a lot of depth because they can beat you multiple ways,” Bryant continued. “If you’re going to have a winning streak that’s that extensive, you have to have guys coming in from all aspects of the game.”
The Clippers have looked like one of the most complete teams in basketball, and I haven’t hid my affinity for them on the blog or within our podcast(Episode 2 comes out tomorrow, and trust me, I do alot of gushing.) Their bench is first in the league in scoring, and many are saying that Jamal Crawford should be in the consideration for an all-star bid, even though he has not started a game yet. So while this is looking a bit ahead, what if the Clippers met the Heat in the finals. In a hypothetical seven game series, who wins?
(Lebron James and Chris Paul would certainly have alot to say within the Clips/Heat matchup.)
Point Guard: Chris Paul Vs. Mario Chalmers
–The point guard matchup could very well be where the Clippers find their edge. While Chalmers is by no means a slouch, and has fit well into the scheme of the Heat’s offense since last year, Chris Paul is Chris Paul. The best point guard in the game has corralled all of the offensive weapons at his disposal, and has caused the careers of players like DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe take a huge leap.
Shooting Guard: Willie Green Vs. Dwyane Wade
-While this most likely won’t be Willie Green in the finals(Chauncey Billups, once healthy or even Crawford will most likely see starter minutes), it doesn‘t matter with Wade sitting on the other side. Wade can play excellent defense when he wants too, and is built for the playoff style: Slower pace and one-on-one execution. While the Clippers will end up throwing alot at Wade, he still get the edge.
(Despite some regression within his game, Dwyane Wade is still built for playoff basketball.)
Small Forward: Lebron James Vs. Caron Butler
-Caron Butler has been everything the Clippers have wanted from him. A steady veteran averaging 10 points in the 23 minutes per game who doesn‘t complain about is role. Butler is an above average defender, and has to be given respect anywhere on the floor with his jumper. But, come on, is this even an argument?
Power Forward: Udonis Haslem/Shane Battier Vs. Blake Griffin
-Depending on the matchup, the Heat have decided to play either Haslem or Battier opposite of Lebron thus far in the season(Haslem has started 10 games, Battier 15 and also averages 8 more minutes per game as well). You would most likely see Udonis here, who would have to take on the challenge of guarding Blake. While you would expect to see Lebron take some hits at Griffin as well, I don’t see a scenario where a Haslem/Battier combination can keep Blake at bay all game. He has improved his jump shot, and has even showed a nice fade away that has been included into his post game. Even more important, Blake doesn’t seem as afraid to go to the foul line this year. He’s shooting a low 63%, but it is a career high. In the end, it’s tough to pick against the highlight reel.
(Blake Griffin looks to take another step in the right direction towards a title.)
Center: Chris Bosh Vs. DeAndre Jordan
-Two years ago, this isn’t even a discussion. Last year, you could create somewhat of an argument. This year, you could easily either way. Bosh is certainly the better offensive player, averaging 17PPG to DeAndre’s 10. They are even in both rebounds and blocks, but Jordan has shown more talent in defending other Centers. While Joel Anthony would definitely see more minutes in this series, he probably isn’t on the floor in big minutes. Would Chris Bosh, a full 30 pounds lighter than Jordan, be able to handle him down low? At this point, I still think Bosh has the edge, but it is very close, and could be different come June.
Bench: Clippers: Eric Bledsoe/ Jamal Crawford/Matt Barnes/Lamar Odom/Ronny Turiaf/ Chauncey Billups/ Grant Hill
Heat: Joel Anthony/Ray Allen/Norris Cole/Mike Miller/Rashard Lewis/Udonis Haslem OR Shane Battier
-When looking at the two lists above, you see alot of proven veterans looking to win a title later in their career. The Heat‘s bench looked great early. Ray Allen looked healthy, Mike Miller was filling into the role of backup defensive stopper, and Norris Cole showed competency in running an offense. Since then? Allen‘s shooting has regressed(36% shooting in the last ten games), Miller has looked a step slow on defense, and Cole hasn‘t created enough of a presence on the offensive end to make defenses worry about him. One stat sums it up, The Clippers bench is currently ranked 1st in the league in scoring and 12th in defense, Miami’s is 23rd in scoring and 29th on defense.
(Eric Bledsoe could be a huge trade piece come next season with how well he has played.)
-With the score being even, I believe the Clippers bench gives them the edge as of now. Lebron and Wade will certaintly have their way with some of these defenders, but the Clippers have the depth to show them many different defensive looks, and also have a huge edge on players who can create shots on their own. Beyond that, a team with Griffin/Jordan/Odom/Barnes is going to a nightmare for the Heat in terms of rebounding. If the Heat and Clippers met today, I think it comes out close, but I’d go Clippers in 7. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Next week, my division round ups will return, I apologize for not getting them up this week but we wanted to make sure to get up some posts up about individual players as well(Check out our pieces on Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.) Also, make sure to look out for our power rankings tomorrow.
Until next time, here is your NBA YouTube Clip!