Suddenly, the Los Angeles Clippers look as capable as anyone to win the loaded Western Conference and reach the NBA Finals.
The Clippers, who play the Jazz on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena, are 46-20 after reeling off nine straight wins.
L.A. is positioned to continue its run, too.
The Clippers’ next six opponents — Utah, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans — all appear headed for the lottery.
Los Angeles hasn’t lost since Feb. 21. It hasn’t lost to a team with a losing record since Feb. 2.
So are the Clippers legit?
“Absolutely,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “… They’re playing well at the right time of the year. They’re feeling good about how they’re playing. It looks like they have all the pieces, if they stay healthy.”
The Jazz have lost seven of their last eight games, including two straight. They haven’t beaten the Clippers since Jan. 17, 2012. L.A. has beaten Utah twice this season, 98-90 and 102-87.
“It’s just my opinion, but, looking at them in the West, they’re right in there,” Corbin said. “… It’s going to be interesting. There are going to be some great [playoff] matchups.”
Said Jazz forward Richard Jefferson: “I think there are six teams that have a chance to legitimately win a championship every year. You don’t know who it’s going to be but, if the Clippers win the championship this year, nobody will be surprised.”
Griffin’s got game
Few are talking about Blake Griffin as a top-three Most Valuable Player candidate, but it’s not far-fetched.
Griffin has improved his game dramatically this season. He averages 24.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and is consistently making 18-foot jump shots. From the free-throw line, Griffin is shooting 69.5 percent. In his second season, Griffin made only 52 percent of his free throws.
“His game has expanded,” said Corbin. “His team is having success as a result of his improvement.”
In the Clippers’ wins over Utah this season, Griffin averages 32.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
Said Corbin: “If he’s hitting that perimeter shot — the way he can put it on the floor and get to the rim so quickly — it makes it difficult. Big guys who are guarding him become reluctant to close out. … The more he’s making his perimeter shot, the tougher he is to guard.”
In back-to-back losses to Atlanta and Dallas, the Jazz gave up 112 and 108 points.
According to Corbin, however, his team has not regressed on defense. It is just playing faster, resulting in more possessions and more opportunities to score for both teams.
“We want to speed it up and run a little bit more with this group,” Corbin explained. “You could slow the game to a crawl, but we want to play a certain way — teach these guys to play a certain way.”