Are the Clippers fool's gold or the real thing?

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"Chauncey Billups has to be Chauncey Billups," said Lawler, and lately Billups has struggled.

"Eric Bledsoe has to be the Bledsoe who was so dynamic in the playoffs last year," said Lawler, and lately Bledsoe has been hobbled.

Lawler said the Clippers will come on. "But if not, Charles could be just plain right," said Lawler, his sidekick Mike Smith saying nothing and no one seemingly disappointed.

The Clippers began the season as the NBA's darlings, with their second unit often playing better than the starters. The Clippers beat San Antonio twice, whipped Miami and won 17 games in a row.

But they've lost a bounce to their step, the second unit no longer dominating, and Memphis, Denver, Oklahoma City and San Antonio look like tough outs.

Last year the Clippers gritted it out against Memphis with the jet stream that was Bledsoe, and tough guys like Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin helping to make the difference.

DeAndre Jordan remains AWOL too often at center or misused by Del Negro, while Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins are pushovers compared with Evans and Martin.

So where will the Clippers find that playoff toughness?

And was all this just an exercise in fun — foolish to think the Clippers are anything more than Lob City?

"Charles has his opinions," said Del Negro. "And sometimes they aren't very accurate."

The Clippers will have the chance to make Barkley look as foolish as he does swinging a golf club. But you swing as much as he does, and sooner or later Barkley might connect.

And right now if the Clippers win round one as No. 3 seed, they will become the road team against San Antonio or Oklahoma City. Win on the road, and they will have to do so again to win the West.

The Clippers need to secure the No. 2 seed to be a legitimate championship contender, a tough, tough assignment, but that's just for starters if they believe Barkley has them all wrong.

One more thought from the most positive person I have ever met, and that's with the obvious disappointment Mike Caston must feel these days being a Trojans fan.

After reading about a cancer-stricken Jeffrey Hughes Jr. and the 9-year-old child's struggle, Caston said, "it makes my battle seem so easy."

Caston is dealing with ALS.


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