The Clippers put it together this season, with Brand as the centerpiece.
(D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images)
By Dave McMenamin

It could be said the Clippers got their first win of the 2005-‘06 season way back on June 27, 2001, when the franchise dealt Brian Skinner and the draft rights to Tyson Chandler to the Chicago Bulls for the night-in, night-out 20-and-10 services of Elton Brand.

While it didn’t actually count as a W in this season’s win column, of course, the deal was victorious as it gave Los Angeles the player that its playoff hopes would orbit around four seasons later.

Brand is having the best season of his seven-year tenure, posting career bests of 25.0 points per game, 2.59 blocks per game, and a 52.8 percent field goal percentage. Add in the All-Star’s 10.1 boards per game to those gaudy numbers and it’s no wonder the Clippers are enjoying their best season since going 45-37 in 1991-’92.

All the Right Moves
Sam Cassell, acquired from Minnesota in August, was coming off his lowest scoring campaign since 1995-’96. For most 13-year veterans, a drop off in points like that would suggest they’ve lost a step. Sam-I-Am obliterated any doubts about his slowing down as he torched the Sonics for 35 points on opening night in a Clippers win. The win was a sign of things to come as L.A. raced to a 9-2 start – the best in franchise history. When Cassell was asked about the Clips’ early-season success on Nov. 10, he confidently responded, “Can you believe it? I can.”

Cassell’s 17.5 points per game is four more than he averaged last season, but he wasn’t the only high-scoring guard that the Clippers brought in over the summer. Cuttino Mobley signed as a free agent nine days before Cassell came on board, and the infusion of Cat’s 15.1 points per game became even more vital starting Dec. 7, when Corey Maggette, the team’s leading scorer the season before, missed the first of 39 straight games with a foot injury.

The revamped Clippers steadied the ship and went 21-18 in Maggette’s absence, but have welcomed his season average of 17.8 points per game since his return on March 3.

From Seattle to L.A., With Love
On Valentine’s Day, the Clippers traded bruising forward Chris Wilcox to the Sonics for the willowy 6-foot-10-inch Vladimir Radmanovic. Vlad-Rad is averaging 11.8 points per game with his new club and his 43.6 percentage from 3-point range is the best of his career.

A Coach, a Kid and a Kaveman
With all of the moves that the Clippers have made, it's easy to overlook the steady influence of coach Mike Dunleavy and the emergence of the Clippers’ last two top draft picks -- Shaun Livingston and Chris Kaman.

Dunleavy has taken the team from 27-55 the year before he got there, to 28-54 (.341) in 2003-’04, followed by 37-45 (.451) last year and currently 44-32 (.579) this year.

Meanwhile, Livingston has had the benefit of learning from Cassell’s tutelage. Livingston was the first point guard to make the jump from high school to the NBA and having a veteran like Cassell has eased that transition.

And don’t underestimate Kaman, whose 11.7 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game are highs for his three-year career. Kaman has a special link to another veteran on the team, Brand. In a Dec. 23 win at Charlotte, Brand had 38 points and 20 rebounds while Kaman had 22 and 22, making them the first teammates to go 30-20, 20-20 in the same game since Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere did it for the Knicks in 1970.

Playoff Bound
Later this month, the Clippers will be in the playoffs for the first time since 1996-’97 (they would be seeded fifth in the West if the season ended today). Don’t expect another nine-year drought with this group of guys. And while Cassell has 103 playoff games under his belt and two championship rings to boot, the spotlight will be on Brand, as he graces the postseason stage for the first time.

And why shouldn’t it? After all, he started the Clippers’ playoff push the day he arrived in L.A.

REGULAR SEASON IN REVIEW
April 12: Clippers' revival
April 13: Sonics-Suns 2OT classic
April 14: Pistons' 37-5 start
April 15: All-Star weekend
April 16: Suns shine on
April 17: Defense in Dallas
April 18: Big year for legends
April 19: LeBron vs. D-Wade
April 20: Hornets play on
April 21: Kobe scores 81
Regular Season in Review: Index

The Clippers have benefited from Cassell's veteran presence at the point.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Clippers have steadily improved under head coach Mike Dunleavy.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images