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

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.

“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.