Are Doc's Clippers championship contenders? Clips vs. Celts Preview

Tonight Doc Rivers returns to TD Garden for the first time as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers as they take on the Celts at 7:30 p.m. E.T. The main reason Doc has cited for leaving is that he didn't want to go through a rebuild and wanted to coach a team that could contend now.

Having said that, is this Clipper team truly a contender for the West crown let alone the Larry O'Brien trophy?

The Clippers are 14-8 placing them fourth in a highly competitive Western Conference. What is somewhat confounding is they have the best record in the West in conference games yet are 4-5 against a clearly inferior Eastern Conference.

The Clippers are also just a mediocre road team, 6-6 on the season including an inexplicable loss in Cleveland on Saturday. Los Angeles shot a miserable 28-87 from the field in this game.

Chris Paul himself was 4-16, yet, in true Chris Paul fashion, he still managed 15 assists.

In fact the Clippers were 0-4 on the road against the East before getting their first road win in Philadelphia two nights ago.

If they are going to contend then the responsibility lies squarely on CP3's shoulders who is playing so well that he has often times been compared to Isiah Thomas this season. Paul is averaging 18.7 points and a substantially league leading 12 assists (John Wall is second at 9.1).

Although Paul is playing spectacularly, I still feel the road to the finals in the west goes through either Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

OKC just had a blowout win against my pick to win it all this year, the Indiana Pacers, on Sunday with MVP candidate Paul George calling Durant the toughest player to guard in the league.

Not to mention Russell Westbrook is beginning to look like his old self dropping 26 points, 13 dimes and corralling seven rebounds in the aforementioned Pacer game.

San Antonio are the defending Western Conference champions and have a 16-4 record. These two facts speak for themselves.

Did I mention, Portland has the second best record in the league with LaMarcus Aldridge playing at a superstar level on a nightly basis?

Not being playoff battle tested, having lost to Memphis in the first round last season, just making the Western Conference Finals would be a big step towards this Clipper team acquiring the pedigree to eventually win a championship.

With regards to tonight's game, it should be fun to watch Chris Paul and Jordan Crawford go at each other considering Crawford's been playing at an all-star caliber level recently being named Eastern Conference player of the week averaging over 17 points and six assists his last ten games (Celtics 6-4).

The Clippers will be playing without shooting guard J.J. Redick who will likely be out another 5-7 weeks with a broken hand that also has torn ligaments.

Redick was having a great season averaging just under sixteen points and he also spreads the floor for Paul allowing for more of those "riquickulous" dribble drives those Nike commercials are based on.

Overall, the Clippers as a team are pretty decimated by injuries and as a result have just signed longtime NBA veteran Stephen Jackson.

Even with Los Angeles being somewhat depleted, I still think The C's are going to have a tough time tonight in this game.

Chris Paul will want to win this game for Doc and the Celtics are a young team playing a back to back after what had to have been an emotionally draining loss in Brooklyn.

My prediction:

Clippers 105 Celtics 95

Please leave your own thoughts and predictions on tonight's game in the comments below.

Follow Clint on Twitter @coolhandc