By doing nothing more than just looking at the standings, the answer to the question posed above would be a resounding “yes”.
The L.A. Clippers will go into Monday evening’s tilt with the Orlando Magic at 14-7, alone atop the Pacific Division.
They also boast a very impressive early-season resume in terms of quality wins. Of their 14 Ws, nine have come against teams currently sitting in playoff position.
But let’s look a little deeper here.
Who is their main competition in the conference?
L.A. currently sits in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs in the No. 2 spot behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder are coming off of a berth in the Western Conference Finals, and, like the Clippers, are led by a pair of young, hungry All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
When it comes to size, OKC matches up quite favorably. The dynamic dunk-tastic duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will have their hands full with defensive stalwarts Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: Haha, Perkins.)
Oklahoma City’s Achilles heel in the WCF against Dallas was failure to execute offensively in late-game situations. Often, Westbrook would dribble around the perimeter before forcing up a contested 18-footer with the clock winding down.
The Clippers clocked the Thunder at Staples Center last week and made it look relatively easy. However, there’s a reason OKC is currently sitting alone at the top of the West. They’ll be there.
Another issue the Thunder had in the Western Conference Finals had something to do with Dirk Nowitzki. Oh, speaking of Dirk…
The Mavericks (your defending NBA champions, of course) are currently in the No. 8 spot in the West, although they’re just five games removed from the top spot.
This is a team that looks far different from the unit that won it all in 2011. Remaining are Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Gone are Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea. They replaced Chandler, Butler and Barea with Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Delonte West.
Things got off to an inauspicious start for Dallas, losing the first three games of the season in embarrassing, blowout fashion. They’ve somewhat righted the ship since, however, and have done so by playing stellar defense under Rick Carlisle.
On paper, the Clippers appear to match up pretty well with the Mavs. Dallas has an older, slower roster, whereas the Clippers can run-n-gun with the best of them.
Veteran savvy isn’t something that can be accounted for on paper, however, and that’s an area in which Dallas holds a tremendous advantage.
The San Antonio Spurs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs in the first round last season by the Memphis Grizzlies after finishing the year with the best record in the conference.
Despite having missed their best player, Manu Ginobili, for the majority of the season, the Spurs are still 16-9 and right on the heels of the Thunder.
With their aging core, will the Spurs have the legs for a postseason run following this hectic, compacted season?
When you’re speaking of aging cores, the Lakers come to mind, as well, which is why the Lakers’ championship hopes rest on the shoulders of Andrew Bynum.
Bynum, still just 24-years-old, is having his best, healthiest season to date, averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per game. He’s your starting center for the Western Conference All-Stars.
This isn’t to say that Kobe Bryant is not still Kobe Bryant. Seemingly sensing that the Lakers are more undermanned than they have been in recent years, Kobe is back up to jacking up shots at a rapid rate.
After averaging somewhere in between 20 and 21 shots per game from 2007 until last year, Bryant is shooting an average of 24 shots per game in 2011-12. He leads the league, averaging 29.4 points per game, despite slumping severely from three-point range (29 percent).
So, as you can see, he’s still Kobe.
The Clippers have won three of the four meetings between the two this season (two preseason games, of course), and there’s been a certain degree of chippiness in each and every one of them.
Apparently, the Lakers haven’t taken too kindly to the notion that the little Clippers are challenging them for the crown of Los Angeles. If these two meet in the playoffs…boy howdy!
As for the rest of the best of the West, the Grizzlies, Rockets, Jazz, Blazers, Nuggets and Timberwolves are all in contention.
Does any of those teams really strike fear into you if you’re the Clippers?
Honestly, in a screwy season such as this, there isn’t any reason to believe the Clippers can’t be the last team standing in the conference.
You have your aforementioned pair of blue chip All-Stars in Griffin and Chris Paul.
You’ve added veteran, playoff tested leaders in Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Caron Butler.
Your sixth man, Mo Williams, is doing his best Jason Terry impression, in terms of on-court production and looks.
And, best of all, no other team appears primed to run away with it.
It’s right there if you want it, Clips.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.