|High-flying Blake Griffin is at the center of the fun in Clippertown. (Getty Images)|
LOS ANGELES -- With all the basketball drama emanating from this side of the country, you're forgiven if you thought the Lakers were still the only team in LA worth watching, worth dissecting, worth rooting for against, as the case may be.
You're forgiven if you hadn't noticed that there was another team here that's more fun to watch, if not more interesting -- because drama and conflict are what we crave. Drama and conflict are what the NBA gives us a steady diet of, and Thursday was no exception. The coach of the Brooklyn Nets got fired, Dwight Howard got fined $35,000 for trying to rearrange Kenneth Faried's face and Dwyane Wade got suspended for a game for kicking Ramon Sessions in the private parts. Those were the NBA storylines du jour when the Clippers took the floor against the Celtics, riding a 14-game winning streak.
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Drama might sell, but at some point the sport is about winning. And when it's the Clippers -- the Clippers! -- who are winning more than everybody else, and doing it in a more entertaining fashion than the Lakers are doing drama -- doesn't it command our curiosity?
If not, it should.
Are the Clippers (23-6) for real? To quote a popular sit-com from long ago, they're real, and they're spectacular.
Doc Rivers found out Thursday night in ways that brought out the gallows humor in him. The Clippers dominated the Celtics, 106-77, the way they dominate everybody. They're winning by an average of more than 15 points a game on this 15-game winning streak, leading the league in margin of victory. They lead the league in other things -- boring things, like steals. They don't lead the league in coach mutiny or locker-room malcontents or stars who can't wait to go play somewhere else.
They're a top-five team in the NBA in offensive and defensive efficiency, the only such team in the league. They have the deepest and best bench, the highest-flying human on the planet in Blake Griffin, championship experience in the form of Chauncey Billups, whose services have barely been available -- much less needed -- due to injuries.
"And what's scary is," Rivers was saying Thursday night, "two of their guys haven't even played yet."
No, other than Billups' 60 minutes over three games, he and Grant Hill haven't even started playing yet. They haven't been needed during the Clippers' winning streak, which has come against mostly bottom-feeders. They won't be needed over the next 15 games, when the schedule gets more difficult, partly because the Clippers' bench (Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, a rejuvenated Lamar Odom and others) is so good and partly because this isn't about what the Clippers do in the regular season.
This is about things that happen when the regular season is over, which is the the surest sign of influence from the guy who is mostly responsible for the rebirth of what had been the most laughable and disdainful organization in the NBA for most of the quarter century before he got here.
"Some people may be impressed by the record and all that," said Chris Paul, who is that guy. "While it's tough to do, we can't be impressed because you're not measured by your regular season wins. It's going to be a long time before we see what our team is really made of."
Nobody knows what will happen to the Clippers dive into the deep end of a possibly deep playoff run. Nobody knows if Lob City will be sustained through the two-month grind of the NBA playoffs -- a time when ragged, old teams like the Celtics always seemed to find a way to come back to life.
But we know that if the Clippers are made of just a little bit of what Paul is made of, they have a great chance.
"It's a really good feeling right now, a good vibe," Paul said. "... I just love the way we're playing right now, and it's contagious."
No, he's contagious. It's really that simple. And the early success of this Clippers team, its remarkable turnaround since the day he set foot on the practice court in suburban Playa Vista, is nothing short of a lobbing, dunking, fiercely defending tribute to the ferocity of one of basketball's most relentless competitors.
After winding up the Celtics and making them mindlessly crash into each other like incorrectly assembled Christmas toys Thursday night, Paul was asked if he's noticed the Clippers adopting any part of his personality over the past 12 months since he arrived. He pretended not to know, or maybe he really didn't. But whether he realized it or not, the answer he provided was the proof that yes, this has really happened. Chris Paul has made the Clippers championship contenders.
"I think the biggest thing that everyone has taken on is just a winning attitude," Paul said. "Not settling for less ... just trying to win at all costs, at all times. It's all about winning. It's not about anything else other than winning."
And who gave the Clippers all these crazy ideas? Who made the Clippers about winning? Who made entertaining, Showtime-like basketball -- winning basketball -- something more worthy of our attention than coach-killing drama and multi-star teams not living up to their potential?
Streak or no streak, I think we know.
"At some point," Paul said, "we're going to lose a game."
Not without a fight. Not without a fierce protest from Chris Paul.