LOS ANGELES -- It’s mid-November, but the Los Angeles Clippers have already held what they call “playoff practices” for the past month.
The practices focus on breaking down individual plays and situations that can decide games in November, as well as in June. It’s not so much about getting a play right but about understanding the second, third and fourth options on each play based on what may happen on the court.
When Doc Rivers addressed the Clippers last month before training camp, he told the team about these “playoff practices” and stressed that every practice and every game this season was a building block for the team it would eventually be when the playoffs rolled around.
“That’s what you’re preparing for,” Rivers said. “The whole season you’re preparing for that. That’s the type of focus you have to have. Little things can be the difference in the game, and we got to get our guys thinking that way. The regular season and the playoffs are single possession games. Every single possession can be the difference in the game, and that’s the urgency of great teams and that’s what we got to get to.”
Most teams start having playoff practices in April, but the Clippers have become accustomed to having those kind of practices since training camp began.
“Our practices are honestly like real games,” Jamal Crawford said. “They’re all playoff-type practices. They’re all very efficient. We get after each other. Doc is always thinking big picture. Even if we run a play and we run it correctly, he wants to run it to the last option and he wants to do it again because he saw something else. He’s always thinking about the situation we’ll be at down the line.”
Having playoff practices and opening the season against a handful of playoff teams they might see in the postseason, such as Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, the Clippers are getting an early taste of what the spring will offer.
“It’s a good test for us,” Blake Griffin said. “These are teams we’re going to have to beat down the stretch to get to where we want to go. These aren’t the same teams you’re going to see in March and April, but the tests we have early on are a good indication of what team we’re going to be.”
One of the areas that has been stressed during practices and has looked better is the Clippers’ half-court offense, which will be vital to the team’s success in the playoffs and was an area in which it struggled in the 2013 postseason.
“The half-court offense has been good. We have ball movement, and we can get shots,” Griffin said. “When we haven’t gotten a bucket in a while, sometimes we stand too much and we give it to one guy and try to let him do his thing, but once we get moving and everybody touches the ball, we’re going to get any shot we want.”
The Clippers’ offense is averaging a league-high 109.9 points per game, and Rivers has liked the ball movement while he tries to shore up a defense that is giving up 106.4 points per game.
“It’s been good. We can be a lot better,” he said. “We can improve offensively, but in the meantime, we’re still scoring but we can be far more efficient.”
The playoffs are five months away, but the Clippers think they’ll be far more prepared for the postseason this time around than they were the past two seasons.
“Having Doc, who’s such a basketball mind who has been through everything and seen everything, he knows what plays to call at the right times and he also trusts Chris [Paul], who’s the best quarterback in the game as far as what he sees out there,” Crawford said. “I think those two collectively will give us the best chance to win.”