Wednesday , Nov , 23 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Are the Clippers for real?

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – Yes, it’s early in the 2005-06 campaign. But, the Los Angeles Clippers actually look like a team that could be alive when the playoffs roll around in late April.

Are the Clippers for real?

The Clippers have opened the season with their best start in franchise history. They won eight of their first 10 games and have scored over 100 points seven of the contests. This is a franchise that last appeared in the postseason in 1996-97, when it was defeated by the Utah Jazz, 3-0, in the first round.

Do the Clippers finally have what it takes to get them back to the playoffs?

Last season, Corey Maggette led the Clippers, who finished the season with a 37-45 record, in scoring (22.0 ppg), while Elton Brand, who averaged 20.0 points in 81 contests, grabbed a team best 9.5 rebounds per game. Brand and Maggette once again had productive years and showed Clippers’ management that they should concentrate on building their team around them.

The Clippers did make a significant free agent signing in the offseason when they inked shooting guard Cuttino Mobley to a multi-year deal. Originally selected out of Rhode Island by Houston in the second round (41st pick overall) of the 1998 NBA Draft, Mobley spent six seasons with the Rockets before he was traded along with Steve Francis and Kelvin Cato to Orlando for superstar Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines in June 2004. After playing just 23 games for the Magic, Mobley was dealt to Sacramento on January 10, 2005 for Doug Christie.

Veteran point guard Sam Cassell was acquired from Minnesota along with a lottery-protected 2006 first-round draft pick for guards Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers. Cassell averaged 13.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds with the Timberwolves last season.

Cassell and Mobley have fit right in with their new teammates. The 30-year-old Mobley has added leadership and scoring, while Cassell has played a complete game. The 36-year-old Cassell, who does have a reputation of being a difficult personality for management to deal with, has also taken on a leadership role with the young Clippers.

Add Cassell and Mobley with Brand and Maggette, the Clippers may actually have a club that will be able to earn its first playoff spot in nine years.

The Clippers also have 7-0 center Chris Kaman, who is still developing. He has some decent low-post moves, but is still trying to improve his all-around game. Kaman, Brand and Maggette makeup a formidable front court. Maggette is athletic and is very effective driving to the hoop, while Brand is excellent down low and Kaman is going to keep improving. These three are a solid foundation up front for the Clippers.

Head coach Mike Dunleavy seems to have figured out how to get the most out of his squad, but can he keep them playing this way through an 82-game season?

Another very positive thing that Cassell and Mobley have added to Clippers is postseason experience. Cassell has played in 103 playoff games over his career, while Mobley has participated 14 postseason contests.

Brand and Maggette are doing exactly what is expected of them early on. Brand has been a monster on the boards and is earning his points from the low post. Maggette has been his typical flashy self, scoring and putting together some miraculous moves to the hoop that get the fans out of their seats.

This is not a club that is going to capture the NBA title or possibly even win a round in the playoffs. But, if the Clippers do make the postseason it will be a giant step in the right direction. Right now, one would have to say things look good.

Are the Clippers for real?

Time will tell.

LAC