The Clippers have won 13 of their last 15. Any particular reason for the hot streak?
Blake Griffin is really good? Chris Paul is back? The Clippers have had a pretty nice cross section of contenders, middling teams and dregs of the NBA over that stretch. But mostly the reason for the recent success has been the team slowly regaining health and the incorporation of buyout acquisitions Danny Granger and Glen Davis into the rotation.
The underrated part of the Clippers' this season is they've been painfully unhealthy. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have really been the only players not to be compromised by injury, let alone miss games. Not to invoke the Spurs here, but there's a modular aspect to the team this season where Doc Rivers has been able to plug players into the lineup and the Clippers have managed to maintain some semblance of a system on both ends. And better players returning from injury not only means better first team execution, but it also pushes the interim starters back to their natural second unit position, making tertiary players less relied upon.
How has Glen Davis looked? What is his role on this team?
There are a couple of things that have to be considered with Davis:
1. All discussion of him has to be within the context that Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison were the backup bigs for the Clippers this season. In that regard, Davis has been serviceable: He's capable of being credible from the mid-range, he's been judicious with his selection and he is very comfortable with the rotations in Rivers' defense, something the bench has not had from a big man this season.
Davis' role on this team is essentially to give Griffin and Jordan the brief respite they could ill afford to take earlier in the season and, frankly, allow both starting bigs to be more aggressive. If either fell into foul trouble, there was no one to consistently cover for them on the bench. Davis is their insurance policy.
2. It's pretty evident that there is a difference between "NBA shape" and "title contention shape." Davis was more than in shape to play big minutes on a non-competing Orlando squad, but you can see him struggling to catch his breath in the Clips' pursuit of a championship. And this adjustment extends to Granger in the early going as well; both guys have needed some time getting used to the pace Lob City sets.
Who do the Clippers want to see and who do they not want to see in the first round?
The belle of the Western Conference playoffs has to be Portland. Even during their hot early season streak, the Blazers struggled to defend, relying on otherworldly 3-point shooting to assassinate their competition. But the Pacific Northwest slide is real, Portland sitting at .500 since January 1. It seems like every top four team would take their chances with the Blazers.
Among Clipper Nation, there is a pretty strong loathe in having to face Memphis for the third straight season. Confidence is high that the Clippers could dispatch the Grizzlies (who I feel like might be better than they've been than in the past four years) but L.A. is well aware that even if victorious, the Griz will make any team work for it, severely hampering ones chances to pursue a title berth.
I'd actually put the Mavericks a close second along with Golden State for teams I would not want the Clippers to face. The combination of Dallas' offense (I personally feel may be the best in the league) coupled with Carlisle's tactical skills makes the Mavs an unsavory opponent that could bait Los Angeles into a shootout. And Dallas' propensity for Dirk pick-and-rolls and swing-rolls, while a point of envy, is not something I'd want to see a healthy series dose of.
Where do you see the Clippers fitting into the hierarchy of the West over the next 3-5 years?
There are a lot of moving parts, but likely at the top of the food chain along with the Thunder and Rockets. Health issues aside, the Clippers have a relatively young core of Paul, J.J. Redick, Griffin and Jordan, the latter two who are still growing by leaps and bounds. The Clippers have no egregious contracts on the books that would clog their cap sheet. And if Granger and Davis opt to remain with the team, L.A. ostensibly has a playoff rotation set with only three of the players at or over the age of 30.
It's pretty shocking, but if they manage their assets properly and Doc drafts and develops reasonable role players, the Clippers may have perfectly synchronized a title contention window with Paul's prime years and then reload and peak again as Griffin enters his prime.
Many thanks to Andrew, who can be found at @andrewthehan on twitter.