And then there were three.
The Los Angeles Clippers joined the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks as the only three teams in the NBA to remain undefeated in the year 2017 after they made the Orlando Magic disappear, 105-96, at Staples Center on Wednesday night.
The Clippers have come a long way since they were dismantled by the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 26-point beat down on New Years Eve. After the ball dropped and the date changed, the Clippers have run off five wins in a row to start off the New Year with a bang.
"We're playing with the right spirit and the right energy," said point guard Chris Paul after the win over Orlando. "We just need to keep piling up wins.
It's no secret, that the Clippers winning ways are directly correlated to the play of CP3. During the team's six-game losing skid to end December, Paul played in just one of those games due to a strained right hamstring.
Since he's returned, the Clippers offense has found it's rhythm again, DeAndre Jordan is catching and dunking lobs again [albeit in atrocious postgame attire], and the defense is stifling again. Without Paul, the Clippers allowed an astonishing 110.5 points per game to their opponents, but with him back on the court, they're allowing just 93 points per game.
Hey, DeAndre Jordan, Marty McFly called and he wants his outfit from #BackToTheFuture3 back!#LAClippers #ItTakesEverything pic.twitter.com/AUVfasvy08 — Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) January 12, 2017
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"We're getting healthier," said head coach Doc Rivers. "Our schedule is better for us and we're playing harder. We're playing better. We got back whatever that was. I like the way we're playing right now."
Doc's son Austin has a different opinion on why the Clippers have suddenly started winning again, he believes that the team needed to hit rock bottom, in order to start to pick themselves back up and walk again.
"I don't know what the old saying is, but it's something like, 'If you're going through hell, keep going and you'll get through it," he said from his locker on Wednesday. "That's what our guys did. They just kept going."
One theory could be Doc Rivers' New Years resolution of no more technical fouls. Since he announced that he was going to start holding the team accountable and if anyone picked up a tech, they would have to donate their own money to a charity of their choosing, the team has only recorded one technical foul from an official (DeAndre Jordan), and have not picked up a single one in back-to-back games.
However, when asked if that was the reason behind the team's success, and if it could continue in the second half of the season, Rivers contained his optimism.
"I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself," he began. "But, so far, so good and I hope it continues. I think it's going to take a while for the officials to see what we really are a changed people."
The Clippers victory on Wednesday brought their record to 27-14 at the midway point of the season, ironically, the exact same record they possessed at this time last season.
"I like where we are and who we are," said Rivers about the team's record. "Obviously we have to get healthy, but I love our team."
Veteran shooting guard, J.J. Redick, believes that in addition to health, the NBA schedule and playing weaker opponents is the sole reason why the Clippers have started 2017 off to such a hot start.
"The schedule is the biggest thing," said Redick. "No more seven games in ten days, or eight in twelve, or back-to-backs in Houston and Oklahoma City. Having CP [Chris Paul] back has been great and we're looking forward to getting Blake [Griffin] back in a couple weeks."
The Clippers schedule has indeed lightened considerably to start the year with just five games in ten days and four of those five at home. The lone road game in that stretch was a short trip up to Sacramento to play the struggling Kings.
The luck continues as the team has just three games over the next eight days, all at home with chances to avenge late December losses to the Lakers and Thunder next week.
All-in-all, if the Clippers can keep their head above water and continue their winning ways until their January 28th showdown with the Golden State Warriors--a game that Blake Griffin is expected to be available for--then the team could find themselves reclimbing the Western Conference standings in no time.