LOS ANGELES – Five years ago, Chris Paul enthusiastically threw on a T-shirt and hat commemorating the New Orleans Hornets' first Southwest Division title. On Sunday, the NBA's top point guard was much more subdued when he quickly held up a T-shirt that read "Can't Stop Los Angeles, 2012-13 Pacific Division Champions" – a tribute to the Clippers' first Pacific title.
"It's just a different feeling now," Paul said. "I think now it feels like something we were supposed to do."
The T-shirt – which Paul didn't wear – delivered its own fitting statement: "Can't Stop Los Angeles" used to describe L.A.'s other NBA franchise. Yet it was the Clippers' 109-95 victory over the Lakers on Sunday that gave them ownership of the Pacific Division title.
From 1984-2011, the Clippers made just four postseason appearances, advancing past the second round just once.
"We have had the opportunity to talk to season ticket-holders who have been here for a very, very long time," Paul said. "They have been waiting for this."
Paul hopes to give Clippers fans more to cheer about during the postseason. He has already distinguished himself as one of the most dangerous players to face in the playoffs, averaging 20.5 points, 10 assists and 5.2 rebounds in 34 postseason games. He nearly led the Hornets past the Lakers two seasons ago and willed the Clippers to a Game 7 victory in Memphis last year while playing with a hip and finger injury.
"They weren't winning that much, but he changed that," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said.
Paul is on the most talented and deepest team of his career – and that depth will only improve after guard Chauncey Billups said he could be back from a groin injury by the weekend. Still, the Clippers sit fourth in the Western Conference and could drop to fifth while they have struggled against the West's top teams. They have gone 3-7 this season against the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets.
Paul doesn't think the Clippers are a tease and considers them a legitimate title contender.
"We understand what it's like to go to the playoffs and get knocked off like last year," said Paul, whose Clippers lost to the Spurs in the second round last season. "Now we are trying to do something bigger."
While the Clippers have largely remained drama-free this season, the same can't be said for the Lakers. Though coach Mike D'Antoni said his Lakers have the talent to be one of the West's top four teams, they wouldn't have made the playoffs if the season ended Sunday. With five games left, they're tied with the Utah Jazz for eighth in the West, but the Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker between the teams.
The Staples Center rafters are filled with 16 championship banners belonging to the Lakers. Paul wants to add one for the Clippers and doesn't see any reason to celebrate a division title.
"There was no cake, no champagne or nothing like that in the locker room," Paul said. "That says something even more about our team. We are not satisfied. We understand that this is something small compared to the big picture."
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