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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Clippers have championship chemistry

By Arash Markazi

Los Angeles Clippers
One thing the Clippers seem to have for sure this season is a solid support system for one another.

LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom is no scientist, but he knows a thing or two about chemistry.

He was on a couple of championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, whose players got along on and off the court, and he was a big reason for that.

Before games, the Lakers would lock arms with a bouncing Odom as he shouted, "We're the best team in the NBA!" while his teammates bounced in unison with him.

It's something Odom has carried over to a Los Angeles Clippers team that is trying to create its own traditions and its own legacy. Sometimes Odom will shout, "It's just us!" in the circle. Other nights it will be just the sound of the crowd as they jump up and down around Odom.

As Odom sat in front of his locker Wednesday night, he scoffed at the idea that chemistry doesn't matter as some on the Lakers have said this week.

"It's a team sport," Odom said. "If we were playing a poker game and we don't like each other, then … you've seen those movies. But if everyone gets along, it's s---- and giggles. In this locker room we have fun, it's s---- and giggles and cake."

Odom wasn't joking. After the Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 99-93 for their league-best 13th straight win at home that pushed their record to a league-best 28-8, Ronny Turiaf was handing out chocolate cupcakes from a plastic Tupperware tray he had in his locker.

"Only if they're gluten-free," said Chris Paul, taking a quick look at the cupcakes.

"They're gluten-free, bro," Turiaf said, in his best surfer accent.

As Paul got dressed, his 3-year-old son, Chris II, and Matt Barnes' 4-year-old twins, Carter and Isaiah, were clinging to rolled up T-shirts and slam dunking them through the arms of players making a basket. First it was Odom, then Turiaf, and then Grant Hill.

"It matters," Paul said when asked about chemistry. "It matters a lot when you really, truly care about somebody. You'll dive on the floor for them. You'll run through that screen for them. You really genuinely care how they feel. It just means a little bit more. When you win, you're genuinely happy. You'll go out to eat with your teammates after the game. You want to win for each other and not just for yourself."

The old saying is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Team chemistry often works that way as well. Look at the Clippers' bench when Turiaf gets a big rebound or taps in a shot. You would have thought Blake Griffin had just dunked over a car. The entire bench is jumping up and down as Turiaf laughs and twirls his finger in the air.

Six weeks ago, Clippers center Ryan Hollins, who has basically fallen out of the rotation, opened up a restaurant in Beverly Hills called H.O.M.E. (House of Music & Entertainment). He had told his teammates of his vision for a restaurant meets jazz club before the season but had no expectations of them becoming regulars. The place, however, has become essentially a clubhouse for the players after games, a place where they go to listen to jazz and talk about life over truffled mac and cheese.

"All the players and coaches have come," Hollins said. "Whether you're the star player on the team or a guy on the bench, we come and support each other. Even though I'm not playing, they have my back and they're supporting me. When I get my chance, I'll be out there playing for them. As a whole we have that unity. That's a special thing I've never had before."

When Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro envisioned how this team would look, he believed the players had the personalities that would mesh, but he couldn't be sure with seven new players entering the locker room this season.

"I'm a big believer in that stuff," Del Negro said. "We have really good people, not only good players. They support each other and almost more so off the court, whether it's birthday parties or events or charity events or whatever it is. I think it's very important that there's a great support system for all the players."

Odom has been on teams that have had chemistry and on teams that have not. As he looked around the Clippers' locker room Wednesday night, he said he knows this team has championship chemistry.

"We came into this season knowing we were going to make a great run," Odom said. "We were going to win games. It's going to be fun. It's going to be totally different than any other year. Every time we step onto the court and win a game, we're making history. We're starting a tradition. That feels pretty good to be the start of something. As a matter of fact, it's a feeling like no other."