Friday March 7th, 2014

Blake Griffin Blake Griffin has been on a tear for the red-hot Clippers. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Charles Barkley has changed his tune on the Clippers.

The TNT analyst said Thursday that the torrid Clippers are the class of the Western Conference.

"The two best teams in the Western Conference are the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder ... in that order," Barkley said.

Barkley was much more pessimistic about the Clippers' prospects early in the season, when he called them "softer than tissue paper" and questioned their ability to execute offensively.

"The Clippers can't win a championship," Barkley said during the telecast of the Clippers' 102-97 loss at Miami on Nov. 7. "I know that already after [six] games. They don't have a half-court game."

GIVE AND GO: Analyzing the top of the Western Conference

What's changed? Barkley cited Blake Griffin's development, center DeAndre Jordan's solid year and the Clippers' improved depth for his new view of coach Doc Rivers' team, which ranks second in offense and eighth in defense.

The Clippers pounded the Lakers 142-94 on Thursday for their sixth consecutive victory. They are fourth in the West, 3½ games behind No. 1 Oklahoma City and three games behind No. 2 San Antonio, which routed Miami 111-87 on Thursday. Barkley doesn't expect the Spurs to return to the NBA Finals. "I don't think the Spurs are going to be able to last three rounds deep into the playoffs," Barkley said. "Their older players will not hold up. They're a great organization and have the best coach in the NBA, but every series is going to be very difficult for them."

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