PLAYA VISTA, Calif. No matter what they do or whom they beat, the Clippers seem destined to fly beneath the NBA radar a fact of life when the basketball universe orbits around the Lakers.
The Clippers have victories over four playoff teams from last season, they lead the Pacific Division with a 5-2 record and they face the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night at Staples Center, but the airwaves cant seem to get enough of the soap opera that surrounds LAs other team.
A little acknowledgement please?
To us, all that stuff is irrelevant, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday. Its early in the season; theres been a lot of things going on over there. Its understandable. Were focused on what we can control and our preparation. Were looking at the big picture.
Compared to the Lakers, the Clippers look absolutely stable. The Lakers fired one coach and hired another less than two weeks into the season; the Clippers have committed themselves to Del Negro. The Lakers are below .500; the Clippers have a three-game winning streak going. The Lakers make headlines for their in-house drama; the Clippers keep their attention focused on the court.
It hasnt always been like this, but for now the Clippers can revel in their place and not worry about what team theyre playing or what the latest developments are with the Lakers. With the Heat in town, they have another chance to measure themselves against an elite opponent.
Theyre the defending champs, so I dont see why not, guard Chris Paul said. But at the same time, were in a pretty good position right now in that its more about us and not other teams. Were good enough to play our game and beat whoever.
Thats a kind of swagger the Clippers havent shown before, primarily because they havent been good enough. But in their first seven games, theyve beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks and Lakers all playoff teams last season and have a belief they can beat any opponent if they play at their pace.
Weve just got to come in and play our game, Paul said. Weve shown were capable enough to beat good teams, but weve got to play the right way.
Miami, with its deep lineup and the addition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, looks as imposing as it did last season when it won the NBA title. LeBron James is working on a streak of five games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, Chris Bosh is averaging 20.9 points, and Dwyane Wade is coming off a 19-point, seven-assist game against the Houston Rockets on Monday night. James had 32 points in that game, including eight in the final five minutes.
The Heat lead the league in scoring average (105.5 points per game) and field-goal percentage (49.7), so the Clippers know that effective defense will be critical. Its one area they continue to work on.
With LeBron and Wade and Chris, youve got three of the top players, and everyone else feeds off that, Del Negro said. Then they have Rashard and Ray and guys that know how to play, like (Shane) Battier and (Mike) Miller. Theyre deep. Theyre champions for a reason.
Theres nothing they havent seen, so weve got to be solid with our approach.
They also dont need to worry about the Lakers, who are still looking to find their direction. Being the other team in town seems fine. Its still early.
It doesnt really matter, Paul said when it was suggested the Clippers are being overlooked. We only have seven games to choose from. Nothing really starts until later in the season when youve got 50 or 60 games under your belt and you can really see a teams body of work. No team really knows who they are right now.
Maybe not, but the Clippers are getting close.