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Eight questions about the Clippers as the NBA playoffs get closer

Do the Clippers have what it takes to be NBA champions? Here are some key factors to consider.

February 20, 2013|By Broderick Turner

The Clippers are in the championship conversation.

Imagine saying that.

But it's true.

The Clippers have the third-best record in the Western Conference at 39-17, 4 1/2 games behind conference leader San Antonio (43-12) and one game behind Oklahoma City (39-15).

The Clippers have the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul and a rising star in power forward Blake Griffin.

They have the veteran presence of Chauncey Billups and the deepest team in the NBA, led by reserve guard Jamal Crawford.

So with 26 regular-season games left for the Clippers, it's time for them to make their push toward the playoffs.

Here are eight questions we need to answer about the Clippers:

How important is Chris Paul to the Clippers' championship hopes?

Really, you asked that question?

We've already said Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. He's one of the best closers, best leaders, best tacticians and best players in the league. He'll be mentioned as one of the most-valuable-player candidates behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Paul was just named the MVP of the All-Star game, which showed how great he is. The Clippers were 6-6 when Paul didn't play because of a bruised right kneecap.

So, to use a cliche: As Chris Paul goes, so go the Clippers.

Should the Clippers stand pat or make a move?

That's a tough question.

It comes down to whether the Clippers want to gamble and go all in for the risk of hoping to win an NBA title right now with an aging player like Kevin Garnett (36) or stand pat and try to win in the future with DeAndre Jordan (24) and Eric Bledsoe (23).

Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro is in the last year of his contract and would like to push the envelope and go for it this season.

The Clippers' front office has to eye the future of the franchise and do what's best strategically and financially.

Garnett, who has been rumored to be in a deal between the Clippers and Celtics, would make L.A. better but also older and slower. Though Garnett has toughness and championship experience, he doesn't provide the athleticism, speed and youth that Jordan and Bledsoe give the Clippers. And that's what separates the Clippers from most teams.

If it were up to me, I'd stand pat. Here's why: The Clippers always talk about the process, the steps it takes to become a contender. Consider a young team like Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to the Lakers in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference finals and then reached the NBA Finals in 2012 but lost to Miami.

The Clippers can't and shouldn't skirt the process.

But, hey, what do I know? On Thursday we'll find out what the Clippers will or won't do.

Can the Clippers still finish in the top four in the Western Conference?

Yes, and they should.

The Clippers are better than the teams below them. They have a 2 1/2-game lead over fourth-place Memphis in the West. It's important for the Clippers to finish at least in the top four so they can get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

What role will health play for the Clippers the rest of the season?

A very big role.

We've seen what it has done to the team already. Bledsoe, Jordan and Lamar Odom are the only players to have played in each of the first 56 games. The Clippers have had their 13-man roster completely healthy for only four games this season.

How can Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro keep everyone happy on such a deep team?

Del Negro has a difficult job because all of his players want to play. Communication is the key here. Players just want to know why they aren't playing or don't play as much.

As long as Del Negro talks to his players, the Clippers shouldn't have a problem playing limited minutes.

Are the Clippers good enough to win the NBA championship?

This is an organization that has been to the playoffs only five times since Donald Sterling purchased the team in 1981.

The Clippers have had consecutive postseason appearances only once — in 1992 and '93 — under Sterling. When the Clippers were the Buffalo Braves, that team went to the playoffs three consecutive years.

The goal for these Clippers is and should be to win the NBA championship.

But, realistically, it would be a big move in the right direction if the Clippers reached the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

How big will Chauncey Billups be for the Clippers?

Very.

Billups missed the playoffs last year because he was out because of a torn left Achilles' tendon. Billups won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and he was the Finals MVP.

Billups is known as "Mr. Big Shot" for a reason.

Who will take care of the trainer who has taken care of all the injured Clippers?

Jasen Powell and his staff have done an incredible job keeping the Clippers as healthy as possible and working to rehabilitate the injured players.

Powell took one for the team in Orlando, Fla., this month when he played three on three because the Clippers didn't have enough healthy bodies. So what happened? Powell suffered a torn right Achilles' tendon. Powell had surgery Friday. His wife, Mia, is taking care of her bedridden husband.

Jasen, get well. The Clippers need you back soon.

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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