T.J. SIMERS

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

Charles Barkley calls the Clippers 'softer than tissue paper' and not NBA championship-quality. Will the team find playoff toughness it needs?

I worry Charles Barkley might have the Clippers pegged correctly as "fool's gold."

Good to know, though, Barkley has already pronounced the Lakers goners, and here they were Wednesday night pulling a Lazarus while Utah was digging a hole for itself.

Hello, playoffs?

But what about it — goodbye, Clippers, sooner than later?

Barkley told a TNT audience Tuesday night the West has only three NBA championship-quality teams in Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Memphis, while going on to call the Clippers "softer than tissue paper."

I guess he doesn't put much stock in the thug, cheap-shot artist or hard-nosed competitor that is Matt Barnes, who the Clippers consider just plain tough.

I mentioned what Barkley had said to the Clippers' Vinny Del Negro, and I got a coach's response as soft as tissue paper.

"Everyone has their opinions," revealed Del Negro.

Hey, ordinarily I'm a big Clippers honk. And I would quickly come to their defense if they had a half-court offense that was playoff-worthy.

At the very least it would be easy to dismiss Barkley as a clown. You know, someone who talks about having his eyebrows waxed while appearing recently on "The Price Is Right" with NeNe Leakes, Sharon Osbourne and Demi Lovato and playing Plinko.

But I know Barkley as an expert on fool's gold.

I've been with him on the driving range, Barkley hitting sweet shot after sweet shot. His swing looking so promising.

Then the golf tournament begins, and he tries to hit a stationary white ball like it's a mouse on the loose.

Barkley knows what it's like to feel good and then collapse with no idea how to avoid it.

And here we have the Clippers, feeling really good about themselves, but what have they really accomplished?

Do they belong in the same class as Oklahoma City and San Antonio after getting spanked at home by each recently?

Could they beat the Lakers in a No. 3 seed versus No. 6 matchup, the best possible opponent for the Lakers, as Shaq suggested on TNT?

"The Clippers are not legitimate" championship contenders, said Barkley, and so I wonder who Barkley would pick if the soft Clippers met the dead Lakers.

With nothing else to do but watch the Clippers abuse Milwaukee on Wednesday night, why not put the brakes on this joy ride and agree or disagree with Barkley?

Ralph Lawler, the team's long-time broadcaster, said there are things that must go the Clippers' way.

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