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Clippers have the buzz and the talent; now they need to make it work

It's like a onetime studio head at Paramount acknowledging that Universal has a better slate of films this year.

Or a legendary Disneyland ride engineer conceding that Knott's Berry Farm is now the place to go for thrills.

James Worthy admits it: The Clippers have clearly become the better NBA team in town.

Of course, the former Lakers great tempers his praise of the current Clippers.

"They have to win the Western Conference or their season is void," said Worthy, now the Lakers studio analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet. "They have to make it to the Finals this year. They're loaded, they have one of the best point guards and they have Doc Rivers coming in. There's no more waiting, there's no more, 'Oh, they're getting better, let's give them a few more years.' They have to win this year."

Win the West? Merely getting to the conference finals would be a franchise first.

In their 44 years of existence, the Clippers have had more sub-20-win seasons (eight) than appearances in the conference semifinals (five).

Playoff success is usually incremental, but if anyone is capable of making a giant leap this season, it's the team that retained Chris Paul with a five-year extension, acquired Rivers with some deft maneuvering and even wrangled a pair of shooting stars by trading for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

The Clippers are generating such a buzz that they should move their annual media day Monday from their practice facility in Playa Vista to the red carpet of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

"We have all the talent in the world, so the sky is the limit for our team, man," center DeAndre Jordan said. "If we come out here and stay healthy and listen to Doc and all buy in, then we really have a chance."

It's going to be about both the journey and the destination under Rivers. The Clippers won their first Pacific Division title and a franchise-record 56 games under his predecessor, Vinny Del Negro, meaning it might be hard for some of the returning players to get too excited about anything that happens before the playoffs.

But Rivers is such a master of the moment that he could induce goosebumps when the Clippers hold their first preseason huddle.

"What he does with the team on the court and in the locker room will have a big effect," TNT analyst Steve Kerr said, "and just the confidence the players will have in him will improve the team."

Rivers' coaching strengths are defense and accountability, the latter of which will certainly be put to the test by a young core that has sabotaged the Clippers' success with mental lapses and immature moments.

Jordan needs to develop his one-dimensional offensive game and consider all possible means — hypnosis, anyone? — to improve his dreadful free-throw shooting.

Blake Griffin must stop yapping at referees over calls and his teammates over perceived slights such as not getting the ball enough.

Even Paul, the perfectionist who can at times be too vocal on the court, has acknowledged he could improve as a leader.

There's one other area that needs a drastic overhaul.

"We definitely have to work on our half-court offense," Jordan said. "That showed in the playoffs."

Lob City was floored for most of the final four games of a first-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers averaging 90.8 points.

Having Redick and Dudley should make the offense more dynamic by forcing defenses to pay attention to the three-point line, thereby creating easier opportunities in the interior.

Having Paul gives the Clippers the savvy to continually make the right play.

Having Rivers orchestrate it all means the Clippers are finally poised to make the most of their immense talent.

Win the West? Why not?

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: latbbolch

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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