The NBA season is an 82-game slog through the regular season, which runs from late October until mid-April. One could make an argument that no basketball truly matters in the Association until after the All-Star break when teams start to tighten things up and get in sync ahead of the postseason. So take this following statement with a grain of salt: the best team in the Western Conference right now is the Los Angeles Clippers. They are +650 on NBA betting lines to win the conference title for the first time — the Clippers have never even played in the conference finals.
Clippers coach/personnel boss Doc Rivers could have blown up the roster after the Clippers were upset in the first round of last year’s playoffs by the underdog Portland Trail Blazers. That loss was largely because both Los Angeles stars, point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin, were lost to injury during that series. But Rivers knew that Paul and Griffin were set to become free agents next summer and could have extracted a nice return in trade for both to start a youth movement.
But the gang’s all back and this team is going to basically remain as it is this season because the Clippers are over the NBA salary cap and thus can’t add a major piece in a trade. Still, Rivers’ decision to keep the group together looks good with Los Angeles off to a franchise-best 6-1 start, with a similar against the spread record on NBA betting lines.
You knew this team would be good offensively, and the additions of Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton have strengthened what has long been a weak spot: the bench. The Clippers have outscored opponents by an average of 14.9 points per game, the largest differential of any team in the NBA this season. Among 22 five-man lineups that have played at least 60 minutes together this season, the Clippers’ starting lineup of Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan ranks first in the NBA with a +22.9 net rating. Their primary bench group of Jamal Crawford, Felton, Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers and Speights ranks fourth with a +18.2 net rating.
What’s a surprise is that the defense has really picked up. The Clippers rank second in opponent turnover rate and second in the percentage of opponent shots that come from between the restricted area and 3-point range. The Clippers defense ranks first in the NBA in points allowed per game (89.4) and defensive rating (90.3). They have held opponents to under 100 points and under 45 percent shooting from the field in six straight games, three shy of setting the franchise record set in 2012.
Los Angeles already has impressive wins over likely playoff teams Portland, Utah and San Antonio — that Spurs win was a 116-92 blowout in San Antonio, a place the Spurs lost just once in the 2015-16 regular season.
Golden State remains the -220 favorite on NBA betting lines at SBR Forum’s best sportsbooks to win the West, but don’t overlook the Clippers.