COMMENTARY | Coming off their first divisional title in 43 years as a franchise, their first 50-plus-win season, and their first-ever sweep of the crosstown-rival Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers are poised to shatter a new tier of benchmarks under their new championship-pedigree coach, Doc Rivers, and their newly re-signed All-Star point guard, Chris Paul.
In fact, if L.A's perennial "other NBA team" can win 60 games this year -- entirely doable for a team picked by some to finish with the best record in the Western Conference -- a whole lot of firsts could be established.
Start with the very notion -- previously as implausible as owner Donald Sterling's hair color -- of the Clippers winning 60 or more games. Such a big season in Rivers' first year would separate the franchise from some pretty dubious pro-basketball company. Consider that L.A. is one of 10 NBA teams to never hit the 60-regular-season-win benchmark. Of teams that have been around since before the 1989 league expansion, the Clippers are one of only five to never win 60, with Houston, Golden State, Brooklyn and Atlanta being the others. The Clippers stick out a bit, however, because they're the only team from that group never to appear in the NBA Finals.
Yes, 60 victories would be huge for a franchise that has twice failed to win as many as 60 games over a three-season period -- from 1986-89 under head coach Don Chaney, the team won only 50 games, and from 1998-01, the Clippers won only 51 games, mostly under the direction of coach Chris Ford. The franchise has also recorded three consecutive winning seasons in only one previous stretch -- from 1973-76, when the franchise was known as the Buffalo Braves.
Yeah, as Jay Leno has said in countless "Tonight Show" monologues, "How bad are the Clippers? The Clippers are so bad..."
But a 60-win season would deliver far more than symbolic benefits. For a young team fighting to break through to the next level, 60 puts it in contention for best record in the West status -- that's the number of wins it took last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder to capture the No. 1 seed. And that positioning is exactly what the Clippers need this year to springboard them into a previously undreamed-of realm that could change the whole image of the franchise -- actual making-it-to-the conference-finals contention.
In a Western Conference that also includes the suddenly young, locked and loaded Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, not to mention the perennially powerful Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, 60 could be the win total needed to ensure home-court advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Heck, 60 might buy them home court in the Finals against, say, the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers. From there, they might never have to appear on any dubious franchise list or late-night monologue ever again.
Daniel Frankel is a veteran journalist who writes about Los Angeles-area sports for TitleTownNews.org, the L.A.-focused regional sports blog he founded and edits.
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