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Point guard Chris Paul (left) is playing MVP caliber basketball as the Clippers have been one of the hottest teams in basketball. Photo by Associated Press
Small Forward Caron Butler had a mid season slump, but he has found his range. Photo by Associated Press
The Clippers are one of the hottest teams in basketball, as they are having one of their best seasons ever.
The Clippers have been on a roller coaster ride this season, but they are on the up swing at the right time. It is too soon to peak, but this is a great time to be hot, as the playoffs are right around the corner, and the Clippers want to go in on a high note.
After their victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder this past Monday, the Clippers have won 12 of their last 14 games, and they knocked off the Thunder, who hold the top seed in the Western Conference, twice over those 14 games.
This is a historic season for the Clippers, who are 15 games over .500. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, they have never been this many games over .500 this late in the season. They have only finished at or above .500 three times, and only twice have they finished more than five games over .500. In 1991-92 they finished eight games over, and in 2005-06 they finished 12 games over.
Their recent stretch of wins has kept the Clippers in the race for the Pacific Division title with the Lakers, which could be a key to advancing in the playoffs, because the second place team in the divisional race will more than likely face the Memphis Grizzlies, which is a team that nobody wants to face in the opening round of the playoffs.
Winning the division would make this season even more historic. Out of the four major league sports, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, the Clippers are the only team to play 30 or more seasons and never win a division title.
If the Clippers can finally get over the hump and win a division title, most of the credit will go to All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who may be the hottest player in the league right now. The Miami Heat’s LeBron James will more than likely win the MVP award, but right now, it is hard to argue that James is playing any better than Paul.
If there was any argument over who the best point guard in the league is, there is not much of an argument anymore. Injuries over the past few years have hampered Paul, and allowed the Chicago Bulls’ Derek Rose to take the title, but now that Paul is healthy he has reclaimed what is rightfully his.
In the past ten games Paul is averaging 18.8 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, and he is averaging 9.6 assists per game with 2.5 steals. More importantly, Paul has been clutch in the fourth quarter of games.
Besides Paul, small forward Caron Butler has gotten out of his slump, which has greatly helped the Clippers save their season. For a two month period his shooting percentage plummeted. In the month of February he only shot 38 percent, and in March his shooting percentage dropped to 35 percent.
But as of late Butler has turned it around, shooting 43 percent in the month of April, and in the last 10 games he is shooting nearly 45 percent.
The bench seems to be in better shape as well with the return of guard Mo Williams. He, along with Eric Bledsoe, have split time with shooting guard Randy Foye, which has allowed Nick Young to move to small forward in the second unit.
At 6-7, Young has the height to make the transition to small forward, and against the Thunder, he not only out played teammate Butler, he also outplayed the Thunder’s All-Star small forward and MVP candidate Kevin Durant.
Durant told Young that he could not guard him early in the first quarter, but the opposite was true, because Durant did not do much of anything to stop Young, who scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in only 21 minutes of play. From behind the 3-point line he made 3-of-4 shots. In 22 minutes, Butler scored 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Durant outscored them both, as he finished with 24 points, but he did that in 39 minutes of play on 7-of-18 shooting.
The Clippers have proved that they are a legitimate playoff team, but now it is time for them to take the next step and become a Western Conference contender. Surpassing the Lakers in the division is one hurdle, and making it deep in the playoffs is another.
The Clippers have four games remaining in the season, with three of them on the road. Because the Lakers hold the season tiebreaker, they will have to finish a game ahead of the Lakers to win the division.
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