If you are an NBA fan, you were ecstatic last night as you were able to witness real basketball.  Not a 192-182 blowout in the All-Star game.  Not a dunk contest with players doing the same tricks we have seen in the past.  You tuned into TNT last night from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. to watch professional basketball players compete at the highest level.  And for the most part, we witnessed two relatively competitive games for the first three quarters.  The Knicks lost to the Cavaliers for the fourth time this season, and they have lost by a combined 83 points in those four games.  I still find it surprising how a Knicks franchise that has not won a championship since 1973, and has not sniffed a title since 1999, continue to be on national television every other game.  I will save my full attack on the Knicks for another day, however, as something happened last night that may make the NBA season more interesting come postseason time.

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Chris Paul went through a confusing trade process, but he eventually ended up going to a franchise that has never won a championship.  Photo Credit: LATimes.com

As you may know, the Los Angeles Clippers have had high hopes since they acquired point-guard Chris Paul in 2011 (he should have been a member of the Los Angeles Lakers had the NBA not vetoed the original Paul trade, but I digress).  For every year that Paul has been on the team, however, it has been one disappointment after another.  Whether it is injuries, a lacking presence at the small-forward position, or a blown 3-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers have never been able to get over the hump.  When Blake Griffin is gone with injuries, the team actually seems to flow a lot better and there is not that much of a noticeable drop-off in their record when he is not on the court.  The offense does change, yes, but they are able to hold there own when the five-time All Star misses significant playing time.  When Chris Paul is out, however, the Clippers teeter between being mediocre and being a fourth or fifth seed in the difficult Western Conference.  The Clippers are 6-8 in their past 14 games without Paul, and they are desperately clinging onto the fourth seed over the defensive-minded Utah Jazz.   Last night, however, we saw something from the Los Angeles Clippers that showed us they can be legitimate title contenders when their leader returns to the floor.

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Austin Rivers has done a good job filling in for Chris Paul and showed off some of his talents last night.  Photo Credit: Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat

What I am referring to is the sequence of events that happened at the end of the first half against the Golden State Warriors in the second game of TNT’s double-header.  Austin Rivers made a step back three against the 6’11” Kevin Durant that extended the Clippers lead to 14 points.  Then, a few seconds later, Rivers stole the ball from Stephen Curry and threw a beautiful alley-oop pass to DeAndre Jordan, who promptly dunked the ball and extended the lead to 16 points.  In the matter of 30 seconds, I was convinced that if Golden State and Los Angeles were to meet in the playoffs, the Clippers will be a tough out for the juggernaut Warriors.  The Clippers bench with Chris Paul in the starting lineup would include Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford,  Brandon Bass, and Marreese Speights.  This would be Doc Rivers’ best bench he has ever had with the Clippers, and their only true weakness would be that small-forward position.  I like Luc Mbah a Moute’s defensive intensity, but he would not be able to match Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard’s offensive production.  I do believe, however, that the Clippers have the best center in comparison to San Antonio and Golden State, and their power-forward is more gifted overall than LaMarcus Aldridge or Draymond Green.  Chris Paul plays a different brand of basketball than Stephen Curry, but he makes better team decisions than the reigning two-time league MVP.   If J.J. Redick can shoot lights out in the playoffs and silence the Roaracle or the Spurs’ crowd at the right moments, then this team has a legitimate chance to win the championship this year.  And that’s what needs to happen if the Clippers want to retain this unit for the following years to come.

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Could this be the last season for the Clippers’ Big Three?  DeAndre will be on the team next year, but all of the eyes will be on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul this summer.

Photo Credit: Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The summer of 2017 will feature free agents like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick.  If this Clippers team, as currently assembled, cannot advance pass the second round with a healthy roster, we may see these impact players leave Los Angeles in July.  Why would Chris Paul stick with a team that has never made it to the Conference Finals in his tenure when he prime years are running up?  Who’s to say that he would not want to join a front-court dominant Pelicans squad and return back to New Orleans?  Chris may even consider going to a Spurs franchise that will prolong his career because Gregg Popovich is a mastermind when it comes to managing the minutes that his stars play.  If Paul leaves, Blake Griffin would definitely test his market value and may be tempted to return to his hometown to play for the Oklahoma City Thunder.  It is funny how quickly things can turn around in today’s NBA.  A talented Clippers squad could go from championship contenders to rebuilding mode if they come up short once again in the postseason.  That is why this year is so pivotal for this team to not only make the Western Conference Finals, but to win the whole thing.  Imagine if that 2011-2012 Boston Celtics team beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.  They probably would have beaten a young Thunder team in the NBA Finals, and Ray Allen would have never gone to the Heat the following year.  Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett may not have been traded, and the C’s could have geared up for a few more playoff runs before the veterans retired.  One series loss can change the dynamic of the basketball world, and that could potentially happen if the Clippers do not make the Finals at the very least.  A healthy Clippers squad should expect to compete for a championship this year, but another second round playoff loss would produce devastating effects for this franchise.

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The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2014 Playoffs.  Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox – USA Today Sports Images

I will go on record saying this and I will not back down: If the Los Angeles Clippers show no signs of even competing with Golden State or San Antonio this year, Chris Paul or Blake Griffin will definitely be gone next year.  I would lean more toward Blake leaving because I do not think that Chris would want to leave the glamorous lifestyle Los Angeles provides (and the added incentives with those State Farm commercials as well).  Griffin is the player the Clippers can afford to lose without tanking the franchise and hoping for good draft picks.  Going back to this years’ squad, we must not make the same mistakes as we have made in the past.  We have given the Clippers excuses for every year that they have failed, when their talent shows that they have the potential to win the championship.  Enough is enough.  Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Doc Rivers need to suit up for a long playoff run and expect nothing short of a ring on their finger come next season.  No more excuses. No more backing down.  This team has the personnel, a solid bench, great coaching, and an owner who has extreme faith in them.  The Golden State Warriors may seem daunting, but this team has beaten them in the playoffs before.  The Clippers have the weight of Los Angeles on their shoulders, and they cannot let them down this year.

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