Sports

Clippers star Griffin: Spurs are still favourites for NBA title

After a chaotic off-season fuelled by the racist remarks made by former owner Donald Sterling, all eyes were on the Los Angeles Clippers when the 2014/2015 NBA season kicked off.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the club for a reported US$2 billion ($2.6b) last August, and the Clippers are doing well as the season approaches the All-Star break, and the halfway point of the season. With 23 wins and 11 losses, they are in sixth spot in the Western Conference and are on course for the play-offs.

The Clippers are regarded as one of the teams capable of knocking off the San Antonio Spurs as NBA champions. The limping Spurs are one spot behind (21-14), but - speaking at a media roundtable yesterday - Clippers' All-Star Blake Griffin insisted that San Antonio remained the team to beat.

How have things changed since Steve Ballmer took over the Clippers?

GRIFFIN: It's a different atmosphere, and I think everybody can see that. From top to bottom, I just think it's a different vibe.

It's great to have an owner who's so involved and so enthusiastic about winning. Not just winning, but also treating people the right way, and making sure that everybody's taken care of.

The San Antonio Spurs are the defending champions but because of a wave of injuries, they haven't looked as lethal as they did in last season's play-offs.

Do your team, and you personally, still view San Antonio as the biggest challenge to winning a championship? And other than them, who are the other teams you feel are the biggest threat in the West?

The Spurs, you have to give them respect. They've been there multiple years. There's been times when people wrote them off, said that they couldn't do it any more, but they always found a way.

So, you shouldn't count them out and give them the respect that they deserve, they've earned it.

As far as other teams, I mean, you could probably name the top eight, nine teams in the West and say that those are the teams that you fight through to get the championship. It's really not just one or two teams this year, it's also a multitude of teams.

The Clippers are playing well after a slow start at the start of this season. What was the key for the resurgence?

I think we just found our groove, found the pace of our offence and started moving the ball, it never really stuck and it just was hopping all over the place.

And then defensively, we had each other's backs. We really found our groove as far as rotations and things like that, so really it's just about the way we play.

If we concentrate on playing the right way and playing in a way that makes us successful, then we'll be fine.

Over the past couple of seasons, the Clippers have developed some heated rivalries with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. From the three, who would you consider as your team's biggest rival?

I'm not sure if I would consider any rivalry. We played the Grizzlies in the play-offs for two years out of the last four.

Maybe you can say that but you basically named three teams that we played in the play-offs.

So, I think any time that you place a team in the play-offs, it can be considered a heated match-up, but maybe not a rivalry.

There's a chance that you might face Golden State Warriors in 
the play-offs again. How different are the Warriors this year under Steve Kerr, particularly with their centre Andrew Bogut playing more of a passing role at the top of the key?

I think they just settled into a role in how they like to play. Bogut, being the facilitator up top and anchors their defence down low, they really had it rolling with him.

Last year, when we played them in the play-offs, he wasn't even playing, so he's definitely a key guy for them, he makes them a better team.

You've had some physical encounters with Bogut over the years and, in that Christmas game, of course a year ago.

Is there any bad blood there, and do you think he purposely tries to get under your skin?

I couldn't tell you what his motives are or anything like that. But you know, those games are always heated. There's a strong competition between the two teams, you know.

Being in the same state, being in the same division, playing each other four times a year, playing each other in the play-offs, it's really heightened that.

I wouldn't say bad blood, but I definitely think every time we play that it's going to be competitive, it's going to be physical.

Would you prefer that when it gets to the play-offs that Bogut's healthy and that Golden State are at their best?

Oh yeah, absolutely. You always want to play teams when they're firing on full throttle.

As a team, we don't hide from anybody and, personally, I don't hide from anybody.

You never wish for anybody or any team to deal with injuries.

This Q&A was facilitated and moderated by the National Basketball Association.