x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Los Angeles Clippers pick up speed

The injection of young players and a new backroom staff has changed the fortunes of an also-ran franchise in the NBA.

The signing of Chris Paul, right, the point guard, by the Clippers has proved instrumental to the Los Angeles team’s success.
The signing of Chris Paul, right, the point guard, by the Clippers has proved instrumental to the Los Angeles team’s success.

Over a span of three decades, the Los Angeles Clippers earned a reputation as one of the laughingstocks of North American professional sports: predictably awful, poorly run, forever overshadowed by the Los Angeles Lakers.

With the arrival of Chris Paul, that could all be changing. In basketball-mad Los Angeles, it already has.

Attendance is up to 19,335 per game, No 6 in the NBA, and the Clippers are getting national television exposure for the first time, well, ever, and have become destination viewing for aficionados.

Heady stuff for a team with only four play-offs appearances in 33 years since leaving Buffalo for California.

Victories last week over the Lakers and the Miami Heat took the Clippers to 6-3 and, shockingly, to the top of the Pacific Division.

They are not the finished product, yet for a team thrown together two weeks before the abbreviated season started, the Clippers are playing remarkably well.

"We know that we are a team that's still developing," Paul said. "But we want to win while we are getting to know each other. It's a process. But we all believe that we will become a good team."

The makeover of the Clippers has been swift but hardly unprecedented; the side were perpetually rebuilding. Only one player from three seasons ago is still on the squad, the centre DeAndre Jordan.

The coaching staff and general manager are new, too. The infamous and inept owner Donald Sterling, however, remains. Which makes this story more amazing.

The Clippers made strides last season with the emergence of the forward Blake Griffin, the Rookie of the Year and a latter-day Human Highlight Reel.

The key was adding Paul, the elite point guard. He wanted away from the New Orleans Hornets, and the Hornets felt compelled to move him.

After a trade with the Lakers was shot down by David Stern, the commissioner, as not being in the best interests of the league, Paul was sent to the Clippers for the guard Eric Gordon, the forward Al-Farouq Aminu, the centre Chris Kaman and a first-round draft pick.

It was a lot to give up, but no one around the Clippers was complaining. When they next claimed the veteran guard Chauncey Billups from the New York Knicks, they were a new team.

Now they are young, talented and exciting. Their defence and rebounding need work, but they have already served notice they are a team to be taken seriously.

"They're a good team, they're a really good team," said the Heat's Chris Bosh after the loss. "They are going to have some battles, and adversity is going to come. We'll see how they handle it."