Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin

OKLAHOMA CITY – Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin finished third in the NBA MVP voting behind Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Miami Heat forward LeBron James.

Clippers guard Chris Paul finished seventh. The Clippers are the fourth team in the past 10 years to have two players finish in the top seven of MVP voting. The previous three teams (2004 Los Angeles Lakers, 2011 Miami Heat and 2013 San Antonio Spurs) advanced to, but lost, in the NBA Finals.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Chris Paul
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin finished third in MVP voting behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Teammate Chris Paul was seventh.
Griffin’s third-place finish was his highest ever in the MVP voting after a career season in which he averaged 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He became the first player in the NBA since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002-03 to average at least 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field.

“I’m honored, really,” Griffin said. “It’s hard to believe, but I’m honored and humbled by that. I said all year it was kind of a two-man race and towards the end it was a no-brainer. It’s definitely cool to be up there."

While Griffin is happy to be ranked as one of the top three players in the league by voters, he said his goal is to continue to improve his game and one day win the MVP.

“Third place, you don’t really get a trophy for that, maybe a bronze medal,” Griffin said. “It’s nice to be considered as that, but I have a lot of areas for improvement.”

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Griffin valuable but improved, too

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
10:20
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DALLAS -- Doc Rivers is no stranger to going to bat for his players.

The Los Angeles Clippers coach called up his fellow coaches before they submitted their All-Star ballots earlier this season and made the case for DeAndre Jordan to be on the team.

[+] EnlargeGriffin
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin probably figures to finish, at best, No. 3 in the MVP race, so perhaps the Clippers should focus on supporting him for a different award.
Jordan didn't make it, but that won't stop Rivers from banging the drum for several of his players to be considered for awards as the season winds down.

"I do like our guys receiving stuff that they deserve," Rivers said. "I always speak out for that. I'm not going to go on a publicity tour or go on Leno or Jimmy Fallon, but I think you guys know."

Rivers might not go on the talk-show circuit, but he has been pushing for Jordan to be considered for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since training camp, has mentioned Jamal Crawford as a sixth man of the year candidate at various times this season and is never shy to say Blake Griffin deserves MVP consideration.

The Clippers, however, might need to refocus their campaign strategy. Like a political strategist looking at incoming polling data, they would be smart to pull out of precincts that are guaranteed to net them nothing.

Instead it might be time to make the case for Griffin winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Obviously it's not as prestigious an award as MVP, but Griffin will be the first to admit he is probably a distant third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant in that race.

Simply the fact that Griffin is currently the odds-on favorite to finish third in the MVP race should tell you how much he has improved. Griffin wasn't one of the 16 players to show up on MVP ballots last season and wasn't one of the 15 players to appear on MVP ballots the season before.

He wasn't even on the radar of MVP voters before, and now he's legitimately part of the conversation. While that might not be good enough to win the MVP, it should be good enough to validate him as the league's most improved player.

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The evolution of Blake Griffin

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
11:30
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DENVER -- Blake Griffin turned 25 on Sunday.

This might come as a surprise to those who have talked about Griffin’s unfulfilled potential and shrinking ceiling for the past couple years. You know, when he was all of 24 and 23 years old.

After his spectacular rookie year three seasons ago, it was easy to expect Griffin to suddenly become one of the best players in the league around the same time he was legally able to drink.

Everything seemed to come easy to him.

The dunks looked like second nature. The comedic timing on his countless commercials was so natural. It was normal to expect a midrange jumper and free throws to come just as seamlessly.

We wanted so much so soon from him. And why not? He had made the All-Star team, dunked over a car, won the slam dunk contest and rookie of the year honors and averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in his first season. A sophomore slump, from a statistical standpoint, was bound to happen.

It’s not that Griffin’s game regressed. It just that it didn’t progress as rapidly as some expected.

The box scores and stat lines were never really going to do Griffin justice. The numbers he put up his first season were on a 32-50 team where he was the only real option. The stats and dunks were great, but what were they for? Over the next two seasons, the Clippers won 65 percent of their games and made back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in two decades with the addition of players like Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford and the maturation of DeAndre Jordan. Griffin was putting up All-Star numbers, but they took a slight dip across the board over the two seasons following his rookie year.

Griffin’s goal coming into this season was to change that, and he has responded with a career season that has him being talked about as an MVP candidate. He is currently averaging a career-high 24.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and is shooting 69.9 percent from the free throw line. He earned his first player of the month award last month after being one of only two players to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in February.

“I wanted to improve across the board to be honest,” Griffin said. “I concentrated on my shot and really put a lot of work in there. Every year I try to make improvements, not just in one area but do it across the board, and one thing is leadership. Every year I want to take another step because with every year, you obviously get more experience and younger guys are coming in and you look to take on that role.”

There’s no real way to practice being a leader. You just have to do it, and Griffin was essentially forced into that role when Paul was sidelined for 20 games this season and Griffin led the team to a 14-6 record and in the process catapulted himself into the MVP race by showing that he was capable of being the team’s leader and go-to guy. Not only did that time allow Griffin to mature but it also changed the way Paul and Clippers coach Doc Rivers viewed Griffin and the direction of the team.

“I think clearly he’s running the floor better and he’s handling the ball more,” Rivers said. “I just think the overall confidence in his game has grown and his shot and his ability to face the basket instead of always trying to play physical with the bigs. I think that’s where he’s improved the most and he’s still going to keep getting better. I don’t think he’s where he wants to be yet at all.”

Paul knew Griffin was athletic and gifted around the basket but he realized Griffin was also becoming a gifted playmaker with the ball in the open court. His ability to run the offense and find the open man on fast breaks was a new dimension to the offense Paul and Rivers realized they had to use even when Paul returned to the lineup.

“When I was out Doc talked to me about kicking the ball ahead and it’s been fun,” Paul said. “Kicking the ball ahead to Blake and letting Blake push it and make plays. It’s not always about the assist. Doc said something about the hockey assist -- the pass that leads to the next pass and that’s when I think when our team is at its best.”

Paul said his relationship with Griffin grew during his time away from the court. He realized how much he needed him to succeed and vice versa. This wasn’t Paul’s team or Griffin’s team anymore. It had to be their team if they wanted to do anything worthwhile in the postseason.

“I think it takes some pressure off of Chris,” Rivers said. “You don’t want Chris having the ball on every possession all game. I don’t know how you can physically go through a game, a year and definitely through the playoffs like that. I just think it’s really important that there’s more than one facilitator on your team.”

Griffin isn’t surprised that his maturation into one of the best players in the league didn’t come as quickly as he would like. He remembers working with shooting coach Bob Thate two summers ago, but admits he only got about three weeks of work in after the Clippers’ playoff run took them into May and he was injured during Team USA training camp in Las Vegas soon after. Last summer he was able to completely devote himself to improving his game after the Clippers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. It was perhaps the only silver lining to an embarrassing early exit that saw the Clippers lose four straight games to Memphis after taking a 2-0 series lead.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, that’s what I’ve been hearing since Day 1 even though I didn’t want to believe it,” Griffin said. “Last summer was the first full summer I was really able to work from the beginning of summer to the end of summer and really put the time in. It’s a lot more mental than I used to think it was. Really locking in every single shot and really focusing in on things that [Thate] wants me to focus on. Creating those habits is big. Even now when I come out to shoot pregame, he’s on me every single time I pick up the ball. I constantly hear him in my ear.”

Before the Clippers won their league-high 11th straight game Sunday and Griffin scored 21 points, his franchise-best 26th straight game of at least 20 points, he was given a birthday cake and serenaded by rookie forward Reggie Bullock, who was celebrating his birthday as well. Afterward, even Paul was surprised by how young Griffin is.

“It’s crazy. I asked him how old he was turning, and he said 25, and I felt that was so long ago,” said Paul, who is 28. “Blake is so mature -- we’ve been together now three years, sometimes I think we’re the same age. We always say the sky’s the limit for him, but it really is. He’s unbelievable. He’s so durable and so athletic and loves the game. He’s unreal.”

Rivers smiled when he was asked if there was a ceiling to Griffin’s game after watching his growth over the past six months this season.

“I don’t know if there is, and I don’t want to be the guy to tell him that there is,” Rivers said. “If you are always in pursuit of getting better, you’re going to find yourself at some point. He’s too young to be even thinking about that.”

Griffin turning the other cheek this season

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
10:28
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LOS ANGELES -- There was a time when Blake Griffin would get pushed around and fight back.

It would happen almost daily. Griffin would get manhandled, get frustrated, lose his cool, and eventually lose the game he was playing.

[+] EnlargeGriffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBlake Griffin takes a beating, but Doc Rivers is pleased with how his star handles it.
"When I was little and I would play my older brother, and he was whupping me and I couldn't do anything, I used to fight," Griffin said. "I used to get mad, I used to grab him, I used to swing at him, I used to do all this stuff. Now it's not really that frustrating. You take it as another tactic and you move on. Sometimes that's what it comes down to."

Griffin has seen the tactic used against him more times than he cares to remember this season. It's not entirely his opponents' fault. Griffin doesn't have a first or second gear. He's constantly stuck in fourth gear. Most of us can handle someone wired like that only in small doses. And that's just in social settings. Put that kind of personality on a basketball court, where you are constantly pushing and shoving each other below the basket for four quarters, and tensions are bound to boil over at some point.

That was the case Monday night when Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker was jostling with Griffin in the paint and the two players ended up on the ground, with Griffin on top of Tucker and Tucker trying to free himself by forearming Griffin in the face.

Tucker was ejected from the game and suspended one game. Griffin, as is usually the case, turned the other cheek, finished the game with 37 points on 14-of-16 shooting, and the Clippers beat the Suns.

"I just assess the play as it happens," Griffin said. "That's not to say I wasn't going to [fight back], but in the moment I don't want to put my team in a bad situation. I don't want to put myself in a bad situation. You have to weigh the pros and cons at that point. I don't know what we were up by, but I know we were up by double digits, and just to do something stupid, to get kicked out, to get suspended, doesn't help. We already have injuries; we already have guys who are banged-up. We don't need that."

Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors likely will be another time when Griffin's patience will be tested. No team gets under Griffin's and the Clippers' skin more than the Warriors. Griffin was ejected for the second time in his career on Christmas Day when he got into separate altercations with the Warriors' Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut.

"Blake gets hit as much as anyone in the league," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We have all seen it. It gets old. It really does. I think he's doing the right thing. I really do. He's doing the right thing. He puts his arms up, because if he reacts like some people say he should, he gets thrown out, gets suspended, and it hurts the team. I know it's very difficult for him, but he's doing the right thing for the team."

Griffin's ability to restrain himself and not swing back hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, who watch firsthand the number of hard fouls and cheap shots he takes on a nightly basis without much of a response. The Clippers are just three games away from the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and know closing that gap would be impossible if Griffin did something to get himself suspended for a couple of games.

"I told Blake during that altercation that it's crazy being his teammate and seeing every night the different fouls and the different things that he takes," Paul said. "He sacrifices so much for us. He could have easily punched back and got to fighting, but he didn't. I don't know how he does it, but that's pretty selfless of him -- because he could do that, and now he's suspended for a few games and that hurts our team. It's huge. He's stronger than me."

There was a time when it worked to play Griffin physically and pepper him with occasional cheap shots. He would get frustrated, lose his focus and miss his free throws. Now, he smiles when players approach playing him the same way they did two years ago. Not only is he averaging a career-high 24.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, but he's also hitting 70 percent of his free throws. He no longer tries to avoid contact in the paint, he welcomes it.

"It's crazy what he goes through every single night," Darren Collison said. "He just keeps getting better and better regardless of who's trying to play physical with him. To me, right now it doesn't work. There's been numerous times he's been in some type of scuffle, and he continues to get better and better each game and throughout the game, as well. Blake's really showing maturity, too, by not retaliating. He's taking a lot of hits, but that's what the playoffs are going to be about. We're ready for it, he's ready for it, and we're going to continue to play through it."

Griffin named West player of month

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
5:10
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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin was named Western Conference Player of the Month for February, the NBA announced Wednesday.

It marks the first time Griffin has won the award and the first time a Clippers player has won since Chris Paul did it for his play in December 2012.

Griffin averaged 30.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in February as the Clippers went 7-4, including wins over Oklahoma City, Houston and Portland. Griffin was one of only two players in the league to average at least 30.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the month. He recorded eight double-doubles and extended his career-best streak of 20-plus-point games, which now stands at 20.

Against the Miami Heat on Feb. 5, Griffin had 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in a 116-112 loss. It was only the 10th time since the 1985-86 season a player has exceeded those statistical minimums in a game and only the fifth time since 1995-96. Griffin has done so two of those five times.

Clippers' playoff preparation continues

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
9:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – When the Clippers opened training camp in San Diego almost five months ago, Doc Rivers began preaching the importance of “playoff practices.”

It seemed like an odd thing to be talking about in October, before the Clippers had even played a preseason game, but in Rivers’ mind there was no need to hold off talking about the purpose of going through an 82-game regular season.

“That’s what you’re preparing for,” the Clippers coach said of the postseason. “The whole season you’re preparing for that.”

Heading into Tuesday’s meeting with the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers have just 21 games left in the regular season, meaning that the importance and meaning of the playoffs have changed as they look at the final stretch.

“Every day on the board in our locker room, it says practice at 11 o’clock, 10:30 shooting and individual work and playoff preparation at 11,” Blake Griffin said. “That’s kind of how we’ve treated this entire season. Every day we’re preparing ourselves for the playoffs.”

Chris Paul referenced the board in the locker room as well, and said “playoff preparation” has become as routine as shooting drills for the Clippers since this team first got together.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images"It's really about our mindset," Blake Griffin said of practicing for the playoffs. "To keep playing and not worrying about calls and things we can't control."
“Since training camp, every practice we’ve talked about playoff preparation,” Paul said. “Like every practice is about being locked in and staying focused, and we’re getting closer and closer to that point.”

Rivers’ “playoff practices” focus on situations late in games, the kind that decide contests not only in the regular season but also in the playoffs. It’s about understanding the various options on a particular play, and staying true to the system and team principles regardless of the score.

“It’s really about our mindset,” Griffin said. “It’s something we always talk about. We put ourselves in situations, like down four with 50 seconds left, just a scenario where we’re never out of the game. To keep playing and not worrying about calls and things we can’t control.”

One of the things Rivers has continued to stress to the Clippers during the season is that you can’t start to prepare for the playoffs when the postseason finally begins -- by that time, it’s too late. It needs to be a slow build during the season, with every game and every practice working toward the eventual goal.

“You have to prepare yourself for what you’re trying to get to,” Rivers said. “That doesn’t mean we have [playoff practices] every practice, but you have to have that mentality every practice because that’s what you’re preparing yourself for. The other ones are small battles during the season, but the war starts in the playoffs, and you have to prepare yourself for it.”

Practices have certainly taken on a different feel for the Clippers this season, mainly because they don’t practice as much as they used to. As Rivers said earlier this season, “I’m taking fresh legs over brains every single time." He rarely practices the day after a game, and will usually have only a light practice the day before a game. Everything is geared toward keeping the Clippers fresh for -- you guessed it -- the playoffs.

“That’s a feel, and I’m probably wrong half the time,” Rivers said. “You have practices where you think after the practice, ‘Man, we had a great practice,’ and the next day your guys look dead on the floor. Now I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Man, that wasn’t such a great practice after all.’ I don’t think anyone will ever get that right. You’re walking a tightrope the entire year on when to go, when to go less and when to not go at all.”

It’s all part of Rivers’ plan to make the Clippers ready for the playoffs, but he will be the first to tell you he doesn’t know how it will all work out. You can prepare for the playoffs and every situation the postseason presents for five months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be ready.

“We talk about it,” Rivers said. “And we’re going to keep working on it, but you still have to go through this process of the regular season and getting better. It’s part of the whole process.”

The Clippers know that the final six-plus weeks of the regular season aren’t just about playoff positioning and home-court advantage, but also a dress rehearsal for what they will have to do in the postseason to achieve their goals.

“We’ve been in the playoffs two years in a row and didn’t like the outcome,” Paul said. “We understand what we’re playing for. Everything is about building for the playoffs.”

Clippers winning after the trade deadline

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
2:53
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LOS ANGELES -- The NBA trade deadline came and went without much action from the Clippers last week. The only real drama occurred on the team charter in the hours leading up to the deadline as players reloaded the Twitter on their phones while the flight was delayed due to weather conditions.

The delay allowed enough time for the Clippers to unload Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens off the plan and off the roster and about a week later, their spots on the team and on the plane have been taken by Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Danny Granger.

There wasn’t much fanfare involved when the Clippers traded Jamison to the Atlanta Hawks for the draft rights to Cenk Akyol or Mullens to the Philadelphia 76ers for a conditional second round draft pick but those deals represented so much more.

In essence, the Clippers traded Jamison and Mullen for Davis and Granger without taking on any added salary. If grading the trade deadline were extended eight days, the Clippers would be big winners.

They had come close to trading Matt Barnes and Darren Collison to the New York Knicks for Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton at the deadline but pulled back when Shumpert suffered a sprained MCL just before the deadline. Shumpert is out indefinitely. Days later, Felton was charged with two counts of criminal weapon possession in New York.

The Clippers haven’t always been blessed with good fortune around trades, but things have broken their way of late. They were, of course, the beneficiary of Chris Paul's vetoed trade to the Lakers in 2011, and also have benefited from the league disallowing a trade of DeAndre Jordan to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett as a side deal to acquiring Doc Rivers as their head coach.

While Garnett, 37, is averaging a career-worst 6.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 21 minutes per night, Jordan, 25, is having a career year, leading the league in field goal percentage (.669) and rebounds (14.0), is fourth in blocks (2.43) and is averaging a career-best 10.2 points per game.

Jamison and Mullens were nonfactors when they were traded but the Clippers are hoping that Davis and Granger can fill two major holes on this team.

The biggest weakness for the Clippers heading into the deadline was depth in the frontcourt. The combination of Mullens, Jamison and Ryan Hollins averaged a combined 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game. By contrast, Davis alone averaged 12.1 points, 6.3 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game with Orlando.

Davis was also shooting 45.3 percent from the field and is a solid mid-range option, which was non-existent from the frontcourt players on the bench before. He also gives the Clippers a player with championship experience (he’s the only player on the roster with a ring) and someone who thrives under pressure (he averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in the playoffs two years ago).

The Clippers were also hoping to upgrade at their small forward position and did just that with Granger, who is an upgrade offensively and defensively to Barnes and Jared Dudley and could actually become the starter this season.

Granger has been in just 34 games since 2011-2012 after knee surgery but says he is healthy this season and is averaging 8.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in 29 games so far. The Clippers don’t necessarily need him to be the All-Star he was in 2009 when he was averaging 25.8 points per game. They just need him to help spread the floor by hitting the long ball when he’s open (he is a career 38.2 percent shooter from the arc) and be a pest defensively. His signing also comes at an opportune time with Jamal Crawford sidelined a couple of games with a strained left calf and J.J. Redick sidelined indefinitely with a bulging disk in his lower back.

The addition of Granger and Davis might not vault the Clippers into championship favorite status but both players will certainly be a bigger factor down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs than Mullens or Jamison were. The Clippers might still be one piece away from being a championship team but they’re closer one week after the trade deadline than they were before.

Clippers improving from long range

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
10:46
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LOS ANGELES -- Jamal Crawford smiles when he’s told the Clippers were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league going into last weekend.

In their last two games, the Clippers have hit 29-of-58 from behind the arc, with Crawford hitting 12-of-20 and Matt Barnes hitting 8-of-13. Not surprisingly the Clippers have won two straight while slowly climbing up the three point rankings.

“I think the good thing about us is we don’t worry about that particular stat because if we did we’d say, 'Oh we’re 25th maybe we shouldn’t take them' but we take what’s there,” Crawford said. “At the end of the day, things balance out and have a way of working out and we have to continue to take good shots and play for each other.”

The Clippers were built to be a strong three-point shooting team but that hasn’t necessarily panned out this season. Their best three-point shooter, J.J. Redick, has missed 30 games and is out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his lower back. Jared Dudley, who was supposed to be the second best shooter from long range, has been relegated to the bench as he struggles through the worst shooting season of his seven-year career.

Doc Rivers, however, has continued to tell his shooters to shoot, regardless of the numbers, believing at some point they will turn around.

“I’ve been saying that all year and I hope it comes true,” Rivers said. “We’re a better shooting team from the outside than we’ve been. I tell my team they’re a great three-point shooting team and then you look at the percentages so we have to be what the percentages say right now but I know we can be better.”

While Crawford and Barnes have been hot recently, and even Hedo Turkoglu hit 4-of-7 from beyond the arc on Monday against New Orleans, Dudley is still waiting for his numbers to trend upwards. He has hit more than one three-pointer just once over the past 17 games and is hitting just 24 percent from long range this month. The Clippers are hoping that soon will change and are hoping he can return to the starting lineup whenever Redick returns.

“Look at a guy like Duds, he’s struggling but he’s been a good shooter his whole career,” Crawford said. “So you know at some point it’s going to balance out."

The Clippers are 25-0 this season when they make at least nine three-pointers. It’s a number that they aren’t necessarily gunning for coming into games but a number that is important beyond the fact that they’re able to hit the deep ball. When those shots are falling it makes things easier for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as well.

“I think it opens up the floor,” Crawford said. “Whenever you have C.P. and Blake they demand so much attention. Having D.J. rolling the the way he’s rolling it opens up the floor because no one wants to get dunked on. It gives space to our shooters and guys who can knock down shots and everybody is doing a good job of passing the ball and moving it around.”

It’s no coincidence that the Clippers’ improved shooting has coincided with their improved ball movement as most of Crawford and Barnes’ shots over the past two games have come uncontested.

“The ball movement on our team right now is just terrific,” Rivers said. “When you’re that unselfish with that many good players, a lot of good things are going to happen.”

When Paul was sidelined for over a month, he was able to see the game differently and to think about how players like Crawford and Barnes could get the open looks that have made them dangerous over the past two games. It’s a small sample size but it could be the start of something big.

“It’s one thing Doc keeps staying on me about, pitching it ahead and making sure the ball is moving and popping,” Paul said. “One thing our staff always says is the ball finds energy. When I was hurt I was really able to see what our team was capable of and we’re still figuring it out but now it’s more so about knowing when to pick my spots and moving the ball around. It’s been great. It’s been our ball movement. We’re getting great looks and at times we’re playing at the right tempo but we have to keep putting it together.”

Crawford, Barnes provide spark for Clippers

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
9:34
AM PT
NEW ORLEANS -- Jamal Crawford is happy to step into the starting lineup for the Clippers when needed, but it’s not a role he relishes.

While most NBA players aspire to start, Crawford, in his 13th season in the league, realizes his value to a championship contender is as a scoring punch off the bench, and it’s a role he looks forward to returning to as soon as the injured J.J. Redick is ready to return.

“I can’t wait until he comes back because I get a chance to go back to the bench,” Crawford said. “We’ll hold down the fort until he gets back and healthy, until then we’ll get as many wins as possible.”

Redick is currently out with a bulging disk in his lower back and his absence has created a domino effect that effects the starting unit and the second team. Not only must Crawford start in place of Redick but Clippers coach Doc Rivers likes playing Redick with Jared Dudley in the starting lineup so with Redick out, Matt Barnes has also moved up into the starting lineup.

The combination of Crawford and Barnes is what made the Clippers’ second unit so potent earlier in the season and is a big reason that group is struggling right now. On Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Crawford and Barnes combined for 33 points while the Clippers’ second unit scored just 9 points and has been outscored 115-36 in the last three games.

“Our team is built for me to come off the bench and be that guy off the bench,” Crawford said. “Right now we’re a little undermanned and our second unit is struggling because of it.”

Crawford is arguably the favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award (and should win as long as he doesn’t start more games than he comes off the bench). He is still one of the most respected scorers in the league and one of only four players, along with Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Bernard King to score 50 or more points with three different teams.

“When Jamal Crawford is coming across the court shooting it with confidence,” Kevin Durant said. “You are going to see the ball go in the rim.”

Crawford and Barnes were particularly potent from long range on Sunday as they combined to go 11-of-18 shooting from behind the arc, including a combined 9-of-13 on guarded 3-point attempts. Both players entered the game shooting 33.5 percent on all 3-point attempts.

“It’s important for us,” Rivers said of the long ball on Sunday. “It’s a part of our game that hasn’t really come through a lot this year but it did tonight. We stretched the floor pretty well. It’s funny we’ve been trying to get Matt to run to the corners all year and now he’s doing it and that’s a good shot for him and we can get it in transition and when he does run there that’s why [DeAndre Jordan] gets the dunks because the guards have to make choice to take D.J. or leave the guy in the corner.”

No one took the recently passed trading deadline harder or more personally than Barnes. He was rumored to be involved in a variety of deals and fully expected to be dealt by Thursday.

Barnes, who signed a 3-year, $12 million deal in the offseason, says he’s playing more freely now than he did before, not because he no longer has to worry about being traded but because he thinks this could be his last season in Los Angeles and doesn’t want to hold anything back if it is.

“Since the trade deadline I think I know my days are numbered here,” Barnes said. “So, I’m going to out there and have fun and play as a hard as I can and help the team in any way. I think I was thinking too much and trying to read into trades and this and that.”

Chris Paul pushed the Clippers to sign Barnes to a minimum deal when no one was looking at him before last season and they both talked about re-signing in the offseason as their children became fast friends. Player movement is part of life in the NBA but Barnes wasn’t the only one on his phone checking to see if he was traded on that charter flight. Every other player was too. When Barnes thought he might have been traded, it was Blake Griffin who was on his phone next to him telling him that nothing was official yet.

“Trades and stuff that’s the business of basketball, but the good thing is our team, we talk, we talk a lot more than we used to in the past,” Paul said. “We try not to leave anything unsaid . . . If we’re going to win this thing, this is who we’re going to win it with. Nobody’s going anywhere. We’re going to each other.”

Redick to miss fourth straight game

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
2:15
PM PT
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick will miss his fourth straight game with a sore right hip on Wednesday, when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers originally pulled Redick out of shootaround before the Miami Heat game on Feb. 5 and was hoping he could be back by Sunday. When Redick missed Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Rivers didn’t see the point in playing the still-recovering Redick on Wednesday, instead opting to give him another week off before the Clippers’ next game after the all-star break.

“I just don’t see the benefit of playing him one game now,” Rivers said. “So, let’s just sit him and see how he is out of the break. I think he’ll be good.”

Redick, who sat out Tuesday’s practice, said he hopes to be back at practice on Monday and be ready to play to play in next Tuesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs.

“I’m waiting,” Redick said. “Hopefully, I practice [on Monday] and things heal up over the break and that’s the goal. When Doc pulled me out of shootaround Wednesday against Miami he told me take the next two games off and see how you feel this weekend. I still wasn’t ready.”

Redick missed 21 games earlier in the season with a fractured wrist and has now missed four games with a sore right hip. He has also played through a variety of injuries ranging from a bruised left knee, lower back spasms and a strained gluteal muscle.

“The strained muscle that I had going back to the Toronto game caused some nerve irritation and what we’re waiting on is for that nerve to wake back up so that my right leg can function properly,” Redick said. “Basically, I’m trying to activate muscles. I haven’t done anything on the court since the Denver game. There’s no point in me coming out here and jumping with a noodle leg.”

Redick initially wanted to play through the injury and get back on the court last week but Rivers and the assistants told him it would be better for him and the team if he came back when he was fully healed.

“[Tyronn] Lue and a couple of the other coaches talked to me and said, ‘I know it’s not in your nature but this is for the good of you and the good of the team,’” Redick said. “It’s frustrating, again, I’m not one of those guys who enjoys being out. I hate missing time. I love playing basketball. My wife is going nuts right now. I’m driving her crazy.”

Paul looking forward to All-Star Game

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
12:38
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul returned to the court on Sunday after an 18-game absence and said Monday he felt fine and will be on the court this Sunday in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game.

Paul was sidelined for over a month after separating his right shoulder on Jan. 3 and was originally slated to miss up to six weeks but was able to return in five weeks. He had previously said he planned on playing in the All-Star Game but getting healthy was always his top priority.

“It’s one of those things where it was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “Even though the All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, for me, it’s more important to be healthy and be out there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game was second on that list but I feel good.”

This year’s All-Star Game in New Orleans has special significance for Paul because he played his first six seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and made his All-Star debut in 2008 when the game was also held in New Orleans.

“It’s New Orleans,” Paul said. “Anybody who knows me knows how much I love the city and miss the city of New Orleans. It’s not Bourbon Street; it’s not the beignets that make the city of New Orleans. It’s the people. As much as I’m excited to get down to New Orleans for All-Star weekend, the thing I’m most excited about is seeing those familiar faces that became a part of my family.”

Paul was voted into the All-Star Game as a reserve but could possibly start the game. Kobe Bryant, who was voted in as a starter, will miss the game and Western Conference coach Scott Brooks of Oklahoma City will decide who replaces Bryant in the starting lineup this week.

Paul only played 23 minutes in his return game on Sunday and had 7 points, 8 assists and 4 steals but that was all the Clippers needed as they beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 123-78. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he had no issue with Paul playing in the All-Star Game and actually encouraged it.

“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he's ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play. I think it will just be a good thing for him to get up and down. It allows him to go up and down in an NBA game with really good players that don't play defense in the game so I think that would be very good.”

Paul said he will arrive in New Orleans on Thursday after the Clippers play the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday and will be there until Monday with his family. Paul said his first order of business will be to visit his “CP3 Afterschool Zone” on Thursday afternoon.

“Those kids that are in the school are a part of me,” Paul said. “Every time we come back and play in New Orleans, I get them tickets to the game so they can come and watch. I still have a lot of extended family there. My sister-in-law was born and raised in New Orleans. My entire family is coming with me to New Orleans for the All-Star Game. My family pastor is still in New Orleans and I’m actually christening my daughter and my brother is going to christen his two twins.”

Clippers aim to be elite defensively

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
3:19
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers want to be an elite team and they know that in order to be an elite team, they have to be an elite defensive team first.

It’s a message Doc Rivers has driven home during every practice, meeting and game since the start of training camp.

Of course, wanting it and talking about it are completely different than actually doing it and more importantly doing it on a consistent basis.

[+] EnlargeTy Lawson
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsDoc Rivers knows the Clippers must work on being consistently better on defense to be an elite team.
The Clippers have shown flashes this season of being a solid defensive team but flashes will only win you games here or there against lesser teams during the regular season. That’s not going to get it done against elite teams when the playoffs roll around.

Against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the Clippers scored 115 points but lost because they gave up 116 points. While all the focus was on Randy Foye’s desperation 3-pointer to win the game, the reason they lost was because they were dominated on the boards, 52-to-37, and in second chance points, 24-to-8.

“We’re just not consistent enough,” Rivers said. “Blame whatever you want, but we were up against a very good defensive team. Fortunately, we were good enough offensively to try and win the game but later that’s not going to work. You’re not going to roll it out and be able to outscore everybody. You’re going to have to get stops, you’re going to have to get stops in a row and it has to be consistent. For us to be an elite team, we have to do that. We can be a good team the way we are playing, but if you’re going to be elite, you’re going to have to have something of a standard defensively. We’re working on it.”

That standard is currently a work in progress, which is totally understandable considering the Clippers still have four games left before the All-Star break and still have the second half of the season to work on shoring up their defense. While the Clippers have been knocked for their lack of size and depth in the frontcourt, Rivers scoffs when he hears the Clippers can’t win a championship because of those shortcomings.

He points to the Miami Heat, who have won back-to-back titles and have gone to three straight Finals without much size and depth in the frontcourt. The one thing they have done well, however, over the last three seasons is play solid defense. The Clippers have certainly done that during stretches this season but over the last seven games, they are giving up 107.5 points per 100 possessions, one of the worst averages in the league. As good as the Clippers are offensively, they are not going to be able to win many games against elite teams giving up that many points.

The Clippers have an opportunity before the break to face the Heat on Wednesday night and the Portland Trail Blazers one week later at Staples Center. While defense has been the team’s Achilles heel through the first half of the season, defeating the league’s elite has also been an issue.

So far this season, the Clippers are 2-6 against the top five teams in the league with their two victories against Oklahoma City and San Antonio coming at home. The Clippers are also just 14-14 on the road this season. While they have played more road games than any team in the league through 51 games and also suffered losses to Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland on the second night of road back-to-backs, elite teams find a way to win some of those games.

And the Clippers can take a step toward becoming an elite team with wins over Miami and Portland over the next week. The Clippers, who are 20-3 at home this season, can also make a move in the standings with their next five games being at Staples Center. The Clippers are just a game and half behind Portland for the No. 3 seed and two and half games behind San Antonio for the No. 2 seed and could easily become a top five team instead of trying to beat one by the All-Star break.

Before they can do that, the Clippers know they have to play defense, which has been easier said than done for them since the season began.

Rapid Reaction: Warriors 111, Clippers 92

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
10:48
PM PT
The Los Angeles Clippers played nine games in nine cities over past two weeks and, despite playing at home Wednesday, finished off what coach Doc Rivers called a "nine-game road trip" Thursday night with a 111-92 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

It was a game void of the fights, technicals and ejections that marred their Christmas Day meeting, but the result was still the same for the Clippers.

How it happened: The Clippers never led as the Warriors jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, stretched it to 19 in the second and then 23 in the third. The Clippers mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter, but it would not be enough.

What it means: After another tough loss to a good team on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Clippers return to Los Angeles to play six of their next seven games at home. They remain within two games of the second seed in the Western Conference and still have a 3½-game lead atop the Pacific Division.

Hits: Blake Griffin had 27 points while DeAndre Jordan had nine points and 20 rebounds. Darren Collison added 22 points and five assists while J.J. Redick had 12 points.

Misses: Jamal Crawford, who had been averaging more than 20 points off the bench this month, had just nine points on 1-of-9 shooting Thursday and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

Stat of the game: The Warriors destroyed the Clippers in the paint, outscoring them 66-22.

Up next: The Clippers return home to play the Utah Jazz, who have won two straight but are 16-29 on the season. The Clippers beat the Jazz 98-90 when the teams last met, last month at Staples Center. Griffin scored 40 points in that game.

Paul selected to his seventh All-Star Game

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
5:17
PM PT
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul was selected to his seventh NBA All-Star Game, the league announced Thursday.

Paul was the MVP of the 2013 All-Star Game in Houston and this is the fourth time he has been selected by the Western Conference coaches as a reserve.

"I am honored to be selected by the coaches for the All-Star Game," Paul said. "My first All-Star Game that I played in was in New Orleans, and that city means so much to me. I look forward to representing the Clippers and playing with Blake [Griffin] in New Orleans."

Paul has missed the past 13 games since separating his right shoulder against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 3, but he said last week he plans on being back and playing in the All-Star Game.

In his previous six All-Star Games, Paul has averaged 12.4 assists per game, the highest average in All-Star Game history. This season, Paul is averaging 19.6 points, 11.2 assists and 2.44 steals per game in 34 games. He ranks first in assists, second in steals and 10th in free throw percentage (.870) in the NBA this season, despite missing 14 games.

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, whom coach Doc Rivers had lobbied for selection, did not make the West team has a reserve.

Clippers still thriving without Paul in lineup

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
10:05
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Paul went down with a separated right shoulder nearly four weeks ago, Doc Rivers knew exactly what he was dealing with.

Rivers never talks about injuries. He acts as if he’s unaware of the injuries his players sustain whenever they are brought up. Ask him for an update or timeline on the return of an injured player and he’ll shrug his shoulders and move to the next question.

It was different when Paul went down. Rivers let out a long sigh before talking to reporters in Dallas and said Paul would be out three to five weeks and maybe more with a separated right shoulder and the Clippers would have to find ways to win without him.

Including the Clippers’ comeback win over the Mavericks the night Paul went down, the Clippers are 11-3 without Paul this month and 12-3 on the season without their leader.

Their lead atop the Pacific Division has ballooned to four-and-a-half games and they are now just one game behind the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers for the second and third seeds in the West.

“I said it right away. Chris is going to miss some games this year,” Rivers said. “Guys miss games. I didn’t think much about it. There was nothing I could do. I think our players have to feel that way every night. You try to win the game. Guys miss games. I think this was a good thing for our team in the long run. It gives Chris fresh legs when he comes back.

“We were struggling whenever Chris went out of the game and now when he comes back and when we take him out our team is learning to play that way as well. In the long run you can always find something good no matter how bad things look and that’s just the way I viewed it when he went down.”

The Clippers’ only “bad loss” without Paul came last week on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, who are currently the eighth seed in the East. The Clippers other two losses were to San Antonio and Indiana, two of the top three teams in the league, on the second night of a road back-to-back.

Without Paul, the Clippers have emphasized ball movement and are finding ways to score. They are averaging over 110 points per game without Paul, with other players picking up the playmaking and scoring slack. Darren Collison is averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 assists while starting in place of Paul and Jamal Crawford, who also has played some at point guard, is averaging 21.1 points and 4.7 assists while Paul has been out.

“I’m happy with it but I look at us and we could still be better,” Rivers said. “That’s how you have to be. It’s important. San Antonio doesn’t blink when someone misses games and neither does Miami and Oklahoma City hasn’t blinked much either. We’re in a very competitive process and you have to keep playing.”

One of the interesting tandems the Clippers have discovered with Paul out and Collison battling an injured big toe is Crawford and J.J. Redick, who rarely played together when Paul and Collison were healthy. Both are playmakers who are able to read defenses quickly and they are playing off each other when they are paired together on the court.

“[Crawford] and J.J. have this thing going and it’s just amazing,” Rivers said. “It’s funny; we have this one play we run for them but it’s tough to work on it when we don’t know what they’re going to do. They play the three or four-man game with Blake and you can do that with veterans. They’ve been in the league and they can read situations.”

While Paul has been out, he hasn’t been away from the team very much; only missing the first three games of the Clippers’ seven-game road trip to continue his rehab in Los Angeles. Paul has become an extension of Rivers’ coaching staff on the bench and even on the team charter when they’re on the road.

“He talks more if that’s possible,” Rivers said. “He was back in the coach’s section every trip and I was like go back in the front and play cards. What I love it about it is that he’s really into it. He’s into the game. During the time outs you can hear him. A lot of guys just travel to travel but I thought he was really good on the road and I was impressed with that because you don’t know."

Rivers always thought his team would survive without Paul but their 12-3 record in the interim without him might not be nearly as valuable as the lessons they’ve learned since he's been out that they’ll be able to refer back to when he returns next month.

“We’re doing a lot of stuff right,” Rivers said. “One of the areas we haven’t been as good at is defensively because when you lose an all-defensive guard that’s hard but offensively we’ve figured out more ways to score because we’ve had to. We don’t have the safety blanket and I think our guys have handled that very well.”

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