Clippers quietly getting the job done

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
12:27
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The recipe for getting attention in Los Angeles is really quite simple. Sure, trophies are nice and all, but Academy Awards and Golden Globes don't drive tabloids. Drama does.

If you want to make waves in this town, you better do something more than just doing your job well.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin says the atmosphere around the Clippers these days is completely different than it was even last season.
You know, you should do something like fire your coach five games into the season and then snub your former Hall of Fame coach in the middle of the night and hire a maligned replacement with a bum leg. You could also, for good measure, throw your All-Star forward under the bus and tell him to put his "big boy pants on" before he decides to take a seat and rest his knees instead.

Again, these are all suggestions. I'm not saying any team would actually be crazy enough to do this.

The Los Angeles Clippers, however, don't seem to care much for attention off the court. For all the hype they got last season, they've quietly gone about their business this season. After beating the Dallas Mavericks 112-90 on Wednesday night, the Clippers are in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division and 3½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers.

This might come as a surprise to many outside Los Angeles. Well, actually, it might come as a bigger surprise to those inside Los Angeles. After all, news of the Lakers' dysfunctional family has been far more compelling than the feel-good story about the Clippers so far this season. Turn on a radio or a television in Los Angeles and you wouldn't even know there was another basketball team in town.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro actually did a double take when he saw the number of local TV cameras and reporters that came to Clippers practice this week before their game against the Mavericks.

"Did everyone get lost?" Del Negro quipped.

"No," responded one of the reporters. "The Lakers are on the road."

While the Lakers' circus is out of town, the Clippers have quietly been playing the kind of "Showtime" basketball Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni hopes his team will at some point.

The Clippers have won their past four games by an average of 16 points while scoring an average of 108.5 points. On Monday night, while the Clippers were blowing out the Mavericks and throwing up lob dunks with the ease of layups, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were trending on Twitter. By Thursday, everyone will once again be more concerned about Pau Gasol's knees and Dwight Howard's free throws.

That's just fine by the Clippers.

"I haven't been in the league for 15 years, but this is my eighth season and I've played since day one," Paul said. "I know what it's like to be that team with the target on your back, but it's all about the process. It doesn't matter if they're talking about you now or late. It's all about building something to get ready for the postseason."

Last season, the Clippers were probably the most hyped team in the NBA. They were plastered on buildings and billboards as "Lob City" entered our lexicon. It was fun but didn't necessarily lead to success in the postseason. This season, the Clippers don't mind if no one is talking about them now, knowing that headlines in December don't lead to success in June.

"We kind of went through all that last year," Griffin said. "We had our ups and downs. The attention is OK. It's whatever, but it's going to come and go. When we had the six-game winning streak it was there, and when we had the four-game losing streak it wasn't there. It's really important not to get too high or too low with those things. We want to hit our stride and we want to get all the attention come playoffs."

There is a bigger difference between the Lakers and Clippers this season than simply their win totals and their style of basketball. Walk into the Lakers' locker room after a game and it's almost like walking into a bad reality show some nights. Kobe Bryant is talking about "big boy pants" in one corner, Dwight Howard is giving one-word answers about his free throws in the other and Pau Gasol is trying to be politically correct in the middle of the room.

Walk into the Clippers' locker room and it's like walking onto a playground during recess. There's Paul's son, Chris Jr., wrestling with Matt Barnes' twins, Carter and Isaiah, as Griffin gets in the mix and tries to see who can give him the hardest high-five. Not only are players' kids allowed in the locker room, players have been encouraged to bring them in whenever they're at games.

"My first year here we were so young, the atmosphere wasn't like this," Griffin said. "Now you see all the kids running around and it's like we have a day care after the games. It's fun. It brings us closer together. I think that's how it should be. It's like that on the road. It's one big, happy family; everybody is going to dinner and going to the movies."

It's something Paul has encouraged his teammates to do as soon as he came to the Clippers last year, believing that getting to know teammates' families helps teams become closer.

"I love it," Paul said. "I treat all my teammates' kids like they're my own. I'm always grateful for how they treat my son. I wish my dad would have been an NBA player and I could have walked into the locker room and met all these guys. I'm grateful for that. That's how it is with our team. We're one big family. We're together with each other more than we are with our immediate family."

It's a feel-good story, which normally translates into a quiet story in Los Angeles. But the Clippers are used to that by now. If they continue to play this way, they know they won't be quiet for long.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
22.8 4.3 0.7 34.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.0
AssistsC. Paul 9.7
StealsC. Paul 1.9
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4