Preview: Los Angeles Clippers [34-13] vs Toronto Raptors [16-30]

December 30, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) and point guard Chris Paul (3) in the first half of the game against the Utah Jazzat the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers are the top team in California, a status I don’t believe they have ever enjoyed before. Their sparkling record is no fluke; a team led by Chris Paul, the world’s best point guard, and physical freak Blake Griffin at power forward, could round up 7 D-Leaguers and compete.

Fortunately for the Clips, their other players are slightly better than that. Willie Green starts at shooting guard, but he’s out there primarily for defensive purposes. The true shooting guard is a scoring machine named Jamal Crawford, a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Jamal averages 16+ PPG, and plays far more minutes than Willie. Jamal has never seen a shot he doesn’t like to take, but it’s hard for his coaches to complain when he drains so many. Centre DeAndre Jordan’s FG% of 60.2 ranks second in the league; keeping him off the offensive boards will be a formidable task. He’s also a defensive presence who blocks and changes shots in the paint. Caron Butler, the starting small forward, has seen his minutes and scoring decrease since his glory days in Washington, but I suspect he’s much happier playing on a championship contender. Lamar Odom was a top-rank forward for years until last year’s disastrous season in Dallas. He’s attempting to resurrect his career, and appears to be making headway. Lamar isn’t scoring much, but he can still rebound and defend. Matt Barnes, a small forward and occasional knucklehead, has bounced around the league but appears to have settled down in la-la land this year. He’s a pesky player who can hit the 3.

And then there’s perhaps the NBA’s most dynamic duo, the Dunk Show of Paul-to-Griffin. Chris Paul is frequently mentioned as the only candidate besides a couple of guys named LeBron and Durant who will garner significant MVP votes. He’s a playmaker of the first rank (9.7 APG) who scores nearly 17 PPG, and leads the league in steals. His task is made easier by being able to throw alley-oop passes to Griffin, the poster boy of power dunks. Griffin was the #1 pick out of Oklahoma State in 2009, and unlike others selected in the lottery that year (Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn) has been a force since the day he arrived.

The Toronto Raptors are in some disarray following Wednesday’s monster trade. Rudy Gay will not play his first game as a Rap until Sunday. Fans at tonight’s game will have to be satisfied with seeing him in street clothes chatting with our array of injured Euros. I don’t think the Raps can stay close to the Clippers, but the game against the Hawks was closer than expected, so who knows?

Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.


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