LOS ANGELES -- There was some worry coming into Wednesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz that the Los Angeles Clippers would still be jetlagged from their eight-day trip to China to play two exhibition games against the Miami Heat.
While the Clippers weren't using that as an excuse for their slow start, they certainly didn't look like a team that had fully recovered, missing six of their first seven shots and missing all seven 3-point attempts in the first half. That all changed in the third quarter when the Clippers outscored the Jazz 34-16, after scoring only 34 points the entire first half, and went on to win 96-94.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Blake Griffin is good to go
Griffin had already established he had fully recovered from offseason knee surgery through the first three preseason games in Las Vegas and China, but in his first game back at Staples Center since May, Griffin showed the home fans he was back to his old self again. He finished the first quarter with 12 points and 4 rebounds and finished the game with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Griffin showcased the same low-post moves and dunks he has the past two seasons while working in a couple of mid-range shots he has been working on this offseason. He finished the game with a lob dunk from Chris Paul and then got a technical for getting in Paul Millsap's face afterward. He's not in midseason form yet, but he's pretty close.
2. CP3 returns to Lob City
Paul made his preseason debut last week in China but said Wednesday night was his first real game back after being cleared by doctors following offseason thumb surgery. Paul was able to play 24 minutes and finished with 6 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds. He connected with Griffin on a picture-perfect lob dunk in the third quarter and found a trailing Griffin for a couple of other easy baskets.
Paul makes the game so much easier for everyone on the court and it was clear his presence took some pressure off of Willie Green, who will likely start at shooting guard until Chauncey Billups returns. Jamal Crawford will likely get the bulk of the minutes there but coach Vinny Del Negro prefers him to come off the bench.
3. Bench mob
The biggest difference this season from last season for the Clippers is their revamped bench, which is arguably the deepest in the league. While there is plenty of talent there on paper, the combo of Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf gives the Clippers a certain toughness they were lacking after deciding to part ways with Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. In the second quarter, Barnes nearly got into it with DeMarre Carroll after a hard foul and Turiaf came in to make sure nothing got out of hand.
While Barnes and Turiaf may provide the bench with some muscle, Crawford and Eric Bledsoe give them a potent scoring punch in the backcourt. The tandem of Bledsoe and Crawford combined for 29 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in helping the Clippers pull out the win.
4. Odom and Hill sit
Del Negro decided before the game to give Lamar Odom and Grant Hill the night off. Del Negro cited fatigue as a reason for both. It's understandable with Hill being 40 years old but Odom's night off was troublesome given his conditioning so far this training camp and preseason. Odom will be the first to admit he should have come into training camp in better shape after skipping Team USA's training camp this summer to work out. Instead, he's in worse shape than he was last season and Del Negro said his knees are bothering him.
"There's no question, I've talked to him about it," Del Negro said before the game. "He's got to work through some conditioning things and some health things, which he's doing, but I've been pleased with his involvement and his intensity during practice and in the locker room. You see him getting a little better. I wish he was in a little bit better condition, he wishes he was too, but he has to continually work every day and I'm sure he'll get there eventually."
5. Jordan at the line
While DeAndre Jordan has worked during the offseason with a shooting coach and spends a good amount of time before and after practice working on his free-throw shooting, he continues to struggle at the line. Jordan finished the game hitting only 5-of-13 from the line and is now 8-of-31 through the first four preseason games. Jordan, who shot 52.5 percent from the line last season and 33.3 percent during the playoffs, says he is getting more comfortable with his shot, but it still has yet to show during the exhibition season. Jordan, however, continues to be a force on the defensive end, finishing with a game-high 16 rebounds, and has improved his offensive game, finishing with 11 points.