Los Angeles Clippers: Caron Butler

Setting Eric Bledsoe free

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
5:29
PM PT

 
After three seasons of healthy debate about Eric Bledsoe’s potential, the NBA marketplace has now given us an appraisal of the electric 23-year-old guard. In exchange for Bledsoe and a second-round draft pick, the Clippers fill both of their wing positions (with J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley) and unload a weighty contract (Caron Butler’s $8 million salary).

The Clippers scored, but for a segment of their fans, Bledsoe’s departure comes with a tinge of sadness. Bledsoe was a cult hero in Los Angeles and for hoop junkies everywhere. He elevated risk to an art form and was the most entertaining sideshow at Staples Center. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will always provide thrills, but we come to expect transcendence from superstars.

Bledsoe was another thing entirely -- a sinewy bundle of chaos whose whole game was predicated on the element of surprise. Already, Bledsoe is a top five on-ball perimeter defender, a one-man press who can slice a 24-second possession in half. He’s the most dangerous shot-blocking guard since Dwyane Wade, and with a few more reps could become one of the fastest end-to-end guards in the league with the ball.

Bledsoe isn’t without imperfections. Although he improved both his 3-point shot and turnover rates considerably last season, he’s still not a player you want to see rise and shoot off the bounce -- or even the catch most nights -- nor is he a born distributor. The ball pressure is nasty, but Bledsoe’s aggression can occasionally cost him defensively off the ball.

For Bledsoe’s cultists, these shortcomings were merely a byproduct of Bledsoe’s unruly style, collateral damage that could be easily tolerated. His trajectory was too promising, his game too infectious to be bothered all that much. Teammates named him “Mini LeBron,” and Chris Paul’s dad called him “Little Hercules.” He’s one of those head-and-heart players who appeals to both stat geeks and the aesthetes.

Bledsoe’s skill set has never conformed to classic standards, and he could never earn the complete trust of Vinny Del Negro, a coach with conventional definitions of what it means to be an NBA shooting guard. Bledsoe doesn’t space like a traditional 2, but he and Paul were wildly successful as a tandem last season, scoring 115.9 points per 100 possessions while giving up 104.7.

This is why there remains a segment of Bledsoe devotees who believe that the team’s shooting-guard-of-the-future has been wearing a Clippers jersey since he was drafted No. 18 overall in the 2010 draft.

In the end, Bledsoe was set free. This is what he’s wanted for the past nine months and it's easy to understand why. When the Clippers and Paul consummated their future plans on Monday, it signaled Bledsoe’s inevitable goodbye.

By liberating Bledsoe, the Clippers land their starting shooting guard and small forward in one stroke. The Clippers ranked fourth in offensive efficiency in 2012-13, so it’s easy to overstate the problems, but spacing in the half court remained an issue. Center DeAndre Jordan has no range away from the hoop, while Griffin works best as an attacker, even as he has improved his midrange shot.

With Redick and Dudley, Paul has two proficient targets on a drive-and-kick. By extending the floor, Redick and Dudley give Griffin more room to operate down low and make life tougher for defenses that want to slough off Jordan. Dudley and Redick are solid system defenders and two players who invite accountability. Both want their minutes, but those calls aren't disruptive demands so much as expressions of confidence. Shooters can be like that.

The renovation isn’t cheap for the Clippers. The move places them up against a hard cap, with only a midlevel exception, a $1.6 million trade exception and minimum offers remaining in their quiver. But that’s the price of contention, and the Clippers are clearly serious.

For the Benevolent Order of Bledsoe in Los Angeles, the price is more psychic: They’ll never experience the magic of a full-time Paul-Bledsoe backcourt.

How the Clips-Celts trade could happen

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
6:19
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LOS ANGELES -- If the Los Angeles Clippers get their wish, the only thing they won't be getting from the Boston Celtics this summer is the parquet floor at the Garden and the 17 championship banners hanging from the rafters.

If their plan works, however, maybe they'll be able to raise their very own banner at Staples Center next year.

[+] EnlargeBoston Celtics
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireThe Clippers could be angling to not only bring in Kevin Garnett, left, and Paul Pierce, right, to their roster, but also Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

The Clippers' plan is to someway, somehow pry Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Celtics and hope that the trio, combined with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, can get the Clippers their first NBA title. (Or at the very least, get them to their first Western Conference finals.)

There are two key things that need to take place for this to happen.

First, the Clippers must be fine with essentially mortgaging their future to make a run at a title for the next year or two with two players who will be 37 and 36, respectively, when next season begins.

Second, the Celtics must be fine with starting their rebuilding project early by blowing up the core of the team that won a title in 2008.

If those two things happen, the next step is figuring out how this mega-deal would shake out logistically, and for that there's no one better to turn to than ESPN.com's salary-cap guru Larry Coon.

There are two scenarios for the Clippers to complete this move, one is if they do it before July 1 and the other is if they do it after July 1.

(Read full post)

Clippers 2012-2013 grades: Starters

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
10:03
AM PT
The Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed their best season in franchise history, winning their first division title, a record 56 games, going on a 17-game winning streak and sweeping the Lakers for the first time. Their postseason, however, wasn’t as memorable, ending in four straight losses after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies. How do the Clippers balance their memorable regular season with their forgettable postseason? Well, we’ll take a step back and try to grade what each player brought to the table, this time with the starters.

CHRIS PAUL



It was another stellar season for Paul, who finished fourth in the league in MVP voting and won the NBA All-Star Game MVP. He led the league in steals-per-game and assist-to-turnover ratio and finished second in assists-per-game. But Paul’s contributions to the Clippers go beyond mere stat lines and personal awards. Paul has made the Clippers legitimate contenders and a destination franchise since he came to the team before last season.

It’s no secret that Paul had a major say in what the Clippers did in the off-season as they went out and acquired Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes and Willie Green. Paul was usually the one doing the recruiting and pushing the front office to make those moves. Now it’s the front office and his teammates that might have to do the recruiting as Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Stats



16.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 9.7 APG, 2.4 SPG, .481 FG, .328 3FG: Paul’s numbers offensively took a big dip largely because he averaged fewer minutes this season than at any point in his career. That had a lot to do with the Clippers’ second team, which played the majority of the second half during blowout wins.

Outlook for 2013-14



When Paul left the Clippers’ training facility last week after his exit interview, he did not indicate he would definitely be back with the team. Paul passed on a chance to sign a three-year, $60 million extension with the Clippers last year, but can sign a five-year, $108 million deal this summer.

"I'm going to take my time," Paul said. "I haven't even thought about it. I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do the rest of the day. I might go home and swim with my son or something. This is nuts. I don't know what to do. I purposely didn't put anything on my calendar because we're supposed to still be playing."

While Paul was non-committal, Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said he was "very confident" the All-Star point guard would eventually re-sign with the team, which is the stance sources close to the team and Paul have echoed for some time. If Paul does re-sign on July 1, the focus will shift quickly to building a championship team around him for the next five years.

Grade

A: Paul is the face of the franchise and the Clippers know they can’t afford to lose him. Thankfully for them, it doesn’t look like Paul is willing to lose $30 million by leaving the team.

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS



It was Billups’ goal in the offseason to be back in time for the season opener, after rupturing his Achilles last February. Despite being back on the practice court in time for the opener, Billups was not back in the lineup until Nov. 28. He played three games and was out again until Feb. 8. Billups played in 22 games this season and struggled to gain any kind of continuity with the starting lineup or get into any kind of a groove. He scored just 7 combined points in the Clippers’ last three playoff games and went 0 for 6 for zero points in Game 4.

Stats



8.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, .402 FG, .367 3FG: Billups had the worst statistical season of his career, averaging less than 12 points and 4 assists for the first time since 2001.

Outlook for 2013-14



While it would seem to be a good time for Billups to call it a career and maybe move into a coaching position, he says he’s like to play one or two more seasons, preferably with the Clippers and Paul, before retiring and assuming a role in the front office.

"I'm focused on playing a couple more years," he said. "Two more years is my goal and after that my desire is more to be in the front office, not coaching. You never say never but my desire has never been to coach. It looks like I'm doing that now but I can't help myself. I would feel better about being in management and putting a team together."

If Paul re-signs with the Clippers, the odds are good that the Clippers will also lock up Billups for another year or two, which is either good news or bad news, depending on his health.

Grade

C: Billups should get an A for coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon at 36 but his performance this season and inability to stay on the court hurt the Clippers more than it helped them.

CARON BUTLER



For a team that admittedly lacked toughness late in the season and in the postseason, “Tough Juice” was an integral piece of the starting lineup. Butler started all but four games this season and was third on the Clippers in three-point shooting percentage. He wasn’t always consistent offensively but he was a solid starter on the team and a leader in the locker room.

Stats



10.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, .424 FG, .388 3FG: Butler had his worst statistical season since his second season in the league and easily his worst season in terms of rebounding.

Outlook for 2013-14



Butler has one year left on his deal and has been mentioned in several trade proposals for the Clippers. As much as the Clippers like what Butler brings to the table on and off the court, if they can package him in a deal with Eric Bledsoe and/or DeAndre Jordan to get an All-Star caliber player there won’t be much hesitation.

Grade

B: Butler didn’t have a great season but he played his role effectively and will likely be back in the starting lineup again unless the Clippers get a trade offer they can’t refuse.

BLAKE GRIFFIN



When it comes to critics, Griffin is often in a no-win situation. He spent all off-season improving his mid-range game and his free-throw shooting and did just that. He shot a career-best 66 percent from the field and showed an ability to knock down shots outside the paint. But his critics will always label him as a dunker and point to a career-low in points and rebounds this season.

Griffin’s numbers being down had more to do with him playing career-low in minutes. In fact, he played six fewer minutes per game this season than he did during his rookie season. Still, Griffin was named to his third straight NBA All-Star Game, led the team in scoring rebounding and become just the fourth player since 2006 to average at least 18 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals in a season. And Griffin was the only player to average those numbers this season.

Stats



18.0 PPG,8.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, .538 FG, .179 3FG: Griffin’s numbers were down from last season but the biggest improvement he made was at the free-throw line where he went from 52.1 percent last season to 66 percent this season.

Outlook for 2013-14



Griffin signed a five-year, $95 million extension with the Clippers last season and has been the face of the franchise since being the first overall selection in the 2009 NBA draft. His game continues to evolve each season, although those refinements and tweaks will always be overshadowed by his dunks.

Ignore any talks about a trade when it comes to Griffin. He’s untouchable, according to multiple sources within the organization, unless the name on the other end of the deal is LeBron James or Kevin Durant. That’s not only how important Griffin is to the franchise in terms of marketing and ticket sales but also how high they think Griffin’s ceiling is.

Grade

A: Another solid season for Griffin, who continues to establish himself as a franchise player just three seasons into his NBA career.

DEANDRE JORDAN



Jordan is athletically one of the more gifted centers in the league but Vinny Del Negro and his staff feel he has a long way to go when it comes to work ethic and maturity. Despite working with a shooting coach this summer, Jordan’s free throw percentage actually fell from 52.5 percent to 38.6 percent. He was a non-factor offensively in the last two months of the season.

While Jordan is a force on defense, the Clippers were often playing four-on-five on the offensive end with Jordan’s limited offensive repertoire and his inability to hit free throws. There were several times when Jordan would actually stand out of bounds during an offensive passion to avoid being intentionally fouled. While Jordan did develop some offensive moves it is still well short of where he should be after signing a four-year, $43 million contract before last season.

Stats



8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, .643 FG, .000 FG: Jordan had a career year in points but his rebounding and block totals took a hit. Still, the most troubling stat about Jordan is his regression at the free-throw line.

Outlook for 2013-14



It’s hard to get a good read on Jordan. On one hand, he looks like he has all the physical tools to be one of the best centers in the league. But on the other hand you look at what he’s done over the past five seasons and he looks like a one-dimensional player who may never realize his full potential.

The Clippers need to decide what camp they are in this season and move forward. However, judging by his performance in the postseason and certainly late in games the past two seasons, the Clippers would be wise to look at ways they could package him in a deal for a big man that will actually contribute offensively late in games and possibly take more of a leadership role on the team. (Yes, I’m talking about Kevin Garnett.)

Grade

C: Jordan developed some new moves offensively and was a force on defense but his inability to make free throws and stay on the floor late in games is a big reason why he may not be in the Clippers’ long-term plans.

Clippers come to fight too late

May, 4, 2013
5/04/13
4:41
PM PT
With their storybook season on a lifeline, the Los Angeles Clippers had perhaps their gutsiest performance of the 2013 playoffs, but it simply proved too late.

"We took too long to come to fight," Chris Paul told reporters following the Memphis Grizzlies' 118-105 win over the Clippers, eliminating them from the playoffs in six games.

Well, that's partially true.

The Clippers fought hard in Games 1 and 2, winning both the rebounding margins and the games, even if Game 2's nail-biter instilled confidence in the Grizzlies. The three games that followed were disasters, though, as the Grizzlies comfortably controlled each from start to finish, leaving no doubt which team was better and more prepared.

In Game 6, the Clippers finally found a way to somewhat flummox the Grizzlies' frontcourt, with aggressive double-teams whenever Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol touched the ball near the post. This caused the Grizzlies to swing the ball around the perimeter to find the open man, often resulting in an outside shot -- a victory for the Clippers' defense.

But the success didn't last long, as the Clippers were limited in their options down low. With Blake Griffin's high right ankle sprain limiting him to just 14 minutes and Lamar Odom and DeAndre Jordan not performing to his liking, head coach Vinny Del Negro decided to roll the dice with small ball lineups -- featuring Matt Barnes, Grant Hill and even Caron Butler as big men -- to try to disrupt the Grizzlies' recently efficient offense.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Grizzlies 104, Clippers 83

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
5:09
PM PT


As the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their blowout win in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, there was a simple message written on the dry-erase board in the locker room:

"9 min. left 77-76. End game on 35-15 run!"

It was the kind of closeout effort that championship teams need in the playoffs. Since that game, however, the Clippers have not done a good job of closing out games at all.

The Grizzlies have outscored the Clippers in the fourth quarter of every game since then, and Saturday’s 104-83 loss was the worst performance yet. The game was tied 62-62 with 3:20 left in the third quarter before the Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 42-21 the rest of the way. The Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 33-16 in the fourth quarter and over the past three games have outscored the Clippers 77-54 in the final period.

How it happened: Much like in Game 3, the Grizzlies' big man tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol was just too much for the Clippers. Randolph had 24 points and nine rebounds while Gasol, the defensive player of the year, had 24 points and 13 rebounds. The tandem’s combined 48 points and 22 rebounds were greater than the Clippers’ starters combined (40 points, 17 rebounds). In fact, Randolph and Gasol almost had as many rebounds as the entire Clippers team (28).

What it means: Despite playing a close game through three quarters, the final box score ended up looking as lopsided as the final score. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Clippers (45 to 28), had more points in the paint (46 to 38), had more second-chance points (22 to 2) and shot more free throws (29 to 17). The lopsided numbers were almost identical to the Game 3 numbers, which has to be cause for concern for L.A. after the team spent the past two days working to reverse these trends. The most glaring similarities were rebounding (45 to 33 in Game 3) and second-chance points (22 to 2 in Game 3). If the Clippers can’t change this in Los Angeles, it’s going to be hard to change the final score.

Hits: If the Clippers can hang their hat on one thing, it’s that Chris Paul responded to one of his worst playoff games ever with a solid performance. He had 19 points, six assists and just one turnover after having just eight points and five turnovers in Game 3. The problem is Paul had 14 points and five assists in the first half, which means he didn’t do much in the second half. Paul had just one point, one assist and one turnover in the fourth quarter before being taken out with the game out of hand.

Misses: Every one of the Grizzlies’ starters scored double-digit points, with two having 15 points and two more having 24 points. On the flip side, two of the Clippers’ starters went scoreless (Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler), while another (DeAndre Jordan) had only two points. It’s going to be hard for the Clippers to win many games -- on the road no less -- when three of their five starters are combing for two points, five rebounds and one assist.

Stat of the game: There are plenty of stats that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro will circle on his final box score with a red pen, but the two big ones will be the discrepancies in rebounding and second-chance points. The Clippers don’t have a chance if those two numbers continue to be that lopsided.

Up next: The goal for the Clippers coming into these two games in Memphis was stealing one game and putting themselves in position to close the series out in Game 5 in Los Angeles. After losing back-to-back games for the first time since March, the Clippers now need to win Game 5 at Staples Center to avoid giving the Grizzlies an opportunity to close the series out in Memphis in Game 6.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 93, Blazers 77

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
10:23
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers turned in a dominating performance during a 93-77 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in their regular-season home finale Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Clippers finish with a home record of 32-9 -- best in franchise history -- and will play at Sacramento on Wednesday with home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and possibly the No. 3 seeding in the Western Conference on the line.

Here are three keys to Tuesday's victory:

Second-quarter surge

The Clippers, who never trailed, blew things open by controlling all areas of the game in the second quarter. They outscored Portland, 26-13, in the quarter and won the battle of the boards, 21-5. The Clippers held a slim 28-24 lead after the first quarter and it was down to 30-29 with 10:36 left before halftime, but the Trail Blazers did not score again until Damian Lillard made a 3-pointer with 4:26 left in the quarter. With just over two minutes left in the half, Portland had scored only eight points in the second quarter. The Clippers opened a lead as large as 19 points in the quarter before settling for a 54-37 halftime lead.

The Butler did it in the third

Caron Butler had a third quarter for the ages by scoring 18 of the Clippers' 28 points coming out of halftime. Butler, who played only nine minutes Saturday at Memphis because of a strained knee, had a fairly quiet four points in the first half but came alive after the halftime break. He made seven of nine shots in the quarter, including four of five 3-point shots. His 18 points in the quarter were more than he has scored in all but one game this season. He had a season high of 24 against New Orleans on Nov. 26. Butler, who finished with 22 points, had not scored more than 14 in a game since. Blake Griffin, who got the third quarter rolling with a high-flying dunk off a between-the-legs pass from Chauncey Billups, had six points in the quarter and DeAndre Jordan had two baskets late in the quarter for four points. They were the only Clippers other than Butler to score in the third as the Clippers forged an 82-55 lead before coach Vinny Del Negro pulled the starters with 1:06 left in the third.

Big pine

Ryan Hollins, a 7-foot center, and 6-10 forward Lamar Odom, gave the Clippers solid minutes off the bench and ignited a second-quarter spurt that keyed the victory. Hollins and Odom combined for 12 points and 16 rebounds for the game. Hollins finished with nine points and four rebounds and Odom had three points and a team-high 12 rebounds. They did most of their damage in the second quarter when Odom had eight rebounds and Hollins had seven points. Odom has surpassed 12 rebounds only three other times this season and was a major factor in the Clippers outrebounding the Trail Blazers, 51-33, for the game.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 91, Grizzlies 87

April, 13, 2013
4/13/13
8:26
PM PT
The first game of the regular season for both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies back on Halloween night was jokingly called Game 8 of their epic seven-game playoff series. Saturday night’s game between these two rivals was called Game 1 of their upcoming eight-game series.

If that is the case and these two West heavyweights face each other in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ 91-87 win on Saturday will give them home-court advantage. More than that, if last season and the four games they played this season are any indication, we could be in store for another classic playoff series in a couple of weeks.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

That’s their D.J.

The ceiling for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is high. That’s one of the biggest reasons that his current contract (four years, $43 million) is as high as that ceiling. Unfortunately for Jordan and the Clippers, Jordan hasn’t come close to that ceiling. He will often show glimpses of it, occasionally grazing it and teasing fans and coaches alike. Luckily for the Clippers, Saturday was one of those games. In perhaps the biggest regular-season game of the season for the Clippers, Jordan played one of his best games. He scored 10 points to open the game in the first quarter and had a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds at the half. Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but his mere presence on the court in the fourth quarter was a welcome sight as he had two key blocks at the end of the game.

The old man

Grant Hill, 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, and he’s also one of the most popular players in the Clippers locker room; younger teammates call him everything from “young fella” to “grandpa.” Hill, however, hadn’t seen much of the court recently. He hadn’t played in the previous five games before Saturday and only saw scarce action in three of the previous 13 games. Hill, who has been dealing with various injuries, simply fell out of the rotation in what he believes is the final season of his career. He might have worked his way back in after Saturday’s game. With Caron Butler playing only nine minutes and being sidelined for the rest of the game with a sore right knee, Hill was forced into action and delivered. With the Clippers trailing 77-72, Hill hit a 3-pointer and putback to tie the game. He also mixed in two blocks and a rebound to help spark a 14-0 run by the Clippers. It was an incredible performance by a player who not only hadn’t seen the court in two weeks but didn’t enter the game until the end of the third quarter. Hill was only part of a stellar night by the Clippers bench, which put up 40 points and helped the team snap the Grizzlies’ 13-game home winning streak and hand them their first loss in Memphis since Feb. 5.

Home court

While the Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets were surging after the NBA All-Star break and compiling two of the top four records in the league, the Clippers were languishing around the .500 mark and unable to string consecutive wins together. That’s a big reason why they were staring at the possibility of opening the playoffs on the road despite putting together the best season in team history and having the NBA's best first-half record. The Clippers have finally turned the corner, however, having won five straight games for the first time since their 17-game win streak in December and controlling their own destiny for home court in the first round. If they beat Portland and Sacramento to close out the season, they will have home court against the Grizzlies as the four-seed. If the Nuggets lose one of their final three games and the Clippers win out, the Clippers would have home court as the three-seed in a possible matchup against the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.

Rapid Reaction: Grizzlies 96, Clippers 85

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
10:11
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- This was a game the Los Angeles Clippers felt they had to win. It wasn't a "must-win" game by definition, but after recent losses to the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, the Clippers needed a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Not only did they need to defeat a Western Conference playoff team they might face down the line, but they needed the victory to reclaim the No. 3 seed in the West, which had been theirs for much of the season.

None of that happened Wednesday night at Staples Center as the Grizzlies defeated the Clippers 96-85, taking sole possession of the Western Conference's No. 3 seed and winning 14 of their last 15 games.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

CP3's strong start

Chris Paul is constantly being told to be more aggressive early in games by players and coaches. They feel that Paul's aggressiveness helps set the tone for the game and opens up opportunities for others as the game progresses. Paul, however, will usually let the game come to him. If there are opportunities to be aggressive, he will be. If not, well, he won't.

"I think he kind of picks his spots," Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. "I also talk to him a lot about trying to be aggressive early because I just think that it opens up everything he's looking for. It opens it up, maybe not at the start of the game, but once the team adjusts to you, be aggressive, all of those plays he wants to make will open up."

Against the Grizzlies, Paul was aggressive early, scoring 18 points and dishing six assists in the first half. He had 22 points and eight assists through three quarters. Paul finished with 24 points and nine assists, but it still wasn't enough.

The artists formerly known as …

It wasn't that long ago that "A Tribe Called Bench" was the most talked about bench in the NBA and closing games with the ease of Mariano Rivera. That was, of course, before the Clippers were hit by the injury bug, forcing them to shuffle things around a bit. On Wednesday, the Clippers' bench was missing Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes, who started in place of sidelined Caron Butler. Despite the return of Jamal Crawford, who came back after sitting out two games, the Clippers' bench was still a non-factor for much of the game. Crawford hit only one of 10 shots, finishing with just two points. In fact, Lamar Odom, with seven points, was the only reserve with more than two.

Defensive struggles

The Clippers have talked for weeks about shoring up their defense and spent the past three practices emphasizing their 3-point defense. Neither was particularly good against the Grizzlies. Memphis shot 54.4 percent from the field and had five players score in double digits. They also shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, which had become a regular occurrence in the Clippers' losses this season. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 45 points as the Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 46-30 in points in the paint.

Clippers prepared for Grizzlies' physicality

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
4:55
PM PT
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin got to know Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph well during last season's grueling seven-game playoff series. They got into each other's faces on more than a few occasions then, and again during this season's opener.

Griffin is preparing for another physical battle Wednesday when the Clippers face the Grizzlies.

When Griffin was asked if Randolph gets under Griffin's skin, he said, "He tries to." When Griffin was asked if Randolph is successful getting under his skin, he said, "No."

[+] EnlargeRandolph-Griffin
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesZach Randolph, left, of the Grizzlies, and Blake Griffin of the Clippers have been in a number of physical battles when the teams play.
"You just keep playing," Griffin said. "You don't even acknowledge it. You just keep going.

"I think it's their style of play as a team in general. They like to grind it out. They're physical down low. Not just with one guy but all their bigs. That's just the kind of style they play."

Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said Wednesday's game against Memphis will be a good test for the Clippers when it comes to the physicality they can expect in the playoffs.

"I would say they are the most physical team in the league," Billups said. "They play the game the way it used to be played with some of my Detroit teams when the game was more physical and the rules were a little different. They haven't changed to the new rules. I like that, though. I can appreciate that."

The winner of Wednesday's game will become the No. 3 seed in the West with fewer than 20 games left in the season. After the two teams' battles last season, Griffin said there won't be any surprises when they take the court.

"We definitely know what to expect and we know exactly how they play -- getting to play them seven games in a row in two and a half weeks is very telling," Griffin said. "You learn a lot how to play them, so we're better off against them today."

As big as the game is for the Clippers from a seeding perspective, Griffin was cautious not to put too much weight on a regular-season game with the playoffs around the corner. The Clippers, however, would like to play better against Western Conference playoff teams after dropping three games to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Denver since the All-Star break.

"It will be a good test for us, but I don't know about a statement game," Griffin said. "Regular-season games are regular-season games. It's important to win them, especially the big games, but the games we're looking forward to are the playoff games. We want to have the best placement possible, but we're not worried about it."

Clippers guard Jamal Crawford returned to practice Tuesday and was expected to play Wednesday after missing the past two games because of a sore left ankle. Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, however, did not practice Tuesday and is expected to miss Wednesday’s game as he recovers from a sore left calf. Clippers forward Caron Butler will also miss the game because of a strained left elbow.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 107, Jazz 94

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
10:08
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Vinny Del Negro didn’t even want to think about the Los Angeles Clippers' first game back from the NBA All-Star break. Their blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night was so thoroughly embarrassing that he ignored it the next day and called Saturday’s game against the Utah Jazz the Clippers’ first game back after the break.

Del Negro’s reset button doesn’t take away Thursday’s loss, but the Clippers can only hope that Saturday’s 107-94 win over the Jazz is a better indication of how they will play over the last 25 games of the season. The Clippers' performance in the second half, and particularly in the third quarter, is exactly the way Del Negro wants the team to play. It was a perfect blend of suffocating defense and transition offense that was a staple of the Clippers when they had the best record in the NBA at the midway point of this season.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

That’s more like it

After an off night against San Antonio when he only had four points on 1-of-4 shooting, Chris Paul responded with 11 points on 2-of-8 shooting and had seven assists and seven rebounds. It certainly wasn’t his best game of the season but was exactly what the Clippers needed as he ran the show perfectly and got his teammates involved. Chauncey Billups was also more effective, finishing with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. Overall, the Clippers would love to get more from their backcourt, but they can get by with Saturday’s performance.

Third-quarter blitz

The Clippers jumped out to an 11-point lead to start the game, but the Jazz quickly stormed back to take a three-point lead before the Clippers went into the half up 51-49. That would be as close as the game got, with the Clippers igniting on a 14-0 run to start the second half and outscoring the Jazz 36-20 in the third quarter. Blake Griffin and Caron Butler, who combined to score 23 points in the quarter, outtotaled the Jazz on their own as the team outscored the Jazz, 20-8, in the paint. The Clippers also shot 59.1 percent from the field in the third quarter while holding the Jazz to 35.3 percent.

Lob deep

The Clippers’ bench has come under scrutiny recently, and those players will be the first to admit they haven’t played up to their potential recently, aside from Jamal Crawford. On Saturday, Crawford scored 12 points and dished out two assists, but the biggest difference-maker was Lamar Odom, who had 18 points, six rebounds and two assists. It was Odom’s best game this season and his highest point total in over a year. The Clippers also got eight points from Matt Barnes and four from Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers are going to need players like Odom, Barnes and Bledsoe to step up if they wish to contend with the top teams in the league. As much as everyone talks about the Clippers’ depth, if Crawford is the only one producing, the Clippers become an average team when the second unit steps onto the floor and is no longer able to keep leads or build on them as they did earlier in the season.

Clippers looking healthy and hard to beat

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
12:20
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has a list of phrases he likes to utter before and after games.

He'll say "it's a process" when asked about the progress his team has made. He'll say "I'm Italian" when asked about his temper or adverse reaction to a play. And he'll usually say "he's a pro" when talking about one of his veterans.

The two phrases Del Negro has had to utter more than he'd like this season, however, are "game-time decision" and "day-to-day." Seemingly not a game or practice goes by where Del Negro hasn't said that a player is a "game-time decision" or that he is "day-to-day" moving forward.

Del Negro began Wednesday night by calling Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler game-time decisions after both players missed Monday night's game in Philadelphia because of sore lower backs. By the end of the night, Del Negro was talking about the difference both players can make when they are healthy.

Butler and Billups both scored 19 points and were deadly from beyond the arc, with Butler hitting 3-of-8 3-pointers and Billups connecting on 4-of-7 in what was eventually a 106-96 victory over the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

"Chauncey hit some great shots. He was hot early on," Del Negro said. "Caron really got us off to a good start and did a good job defensively, which was good to see."

It's easy to forget the impact players like Billups and Butler can have on a team with championship aspirations. Billups has played just six games over the past year and Butler is almost always mentioned in trade talks in which the Clippers are involved.

(Read full post)

Butler and Billups return to the lineup

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
7:54
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers forward Caron Butler and guard Chauncey Billups returned to the starting lineup Wedneday against the Houston Rockets after missing Monday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers because of sore lower backs.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said he would monitor both players' minutes but that they looked good and barring any setbacks Wednesday would also be good to go Thursday against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers will have a one-week break in between their games during the All-Star break, as they will not play again until Feb. 21 after their game against the Lakers on Thursday.

The return of Billups and Butler means the Clippers once again have a fully healthy roster after getting all their players back onto the court for the first time this season last week in Miami.

Butler, Billups out vs. 76ers with sore backs

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
3:53
PM PT
Los Angeles Clippers forward Caron Butler and guard Chauncey Billups will miss Monday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers with sore lower backs.

Butler played just 12 minutes Sunday against the New York Knicks and didn’t see the second half after scoring three points and grabbing a rebound. After the game, Butler said his back felt tight prior to the contest and it got progressively worse; he said he simply couldn’t play after halftime.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Billups' back was tight after Sunday's game and that he would monitor it Monday with the training staff. Billups was a late scratch before tipoff.

Matt Barnes will start in place of Butler, while Willie Green will start for Billups on Monday.

The injuries are obviously a setback for a Clippers team that was only able to play two games with a completely healthy roster after having Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Billups return from injuries last week.

Butler and Billups will be reevaluated when the Clippers return to Los Angeles Tuesday morning and are officially listed as day-to-day.

Rapid Reaction: Wizards 98, Clippers 90

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
8:01
PM PT


It’s understandable that the Los Angeles Clippers might have been in shock when they took the floor against the Washington Wizards on Monday night.

Forward Blake Griffin sat out (strained left hamstring) for the first time in 197 games. The Clippers didn’t find out until a few minutes before tipoff, as Griffin initially planned on playing before feeling uncomfortable in warm-ups.

But their apparent state of confusion never went away.

A slow start transformed into a bad game, which turned into a loss against a team with the second-worst record in basketball. The Clippers were woeful from the 3-point line (4-of-17), turned the ball over 20 times and attempted only 15 free throws.

Jamal Crawford had 28 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had a career-high 22 rebounds and Caron Butler poured in 16 points against his former team. Eric Bledsoe chipped in another great all-around performance, with 17 points, nine assists, two blocks and a steal.

The Clippers, who have lost three games in a row, are now 1-3 on their eight-game road trip. They travel to Florida to face the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Lackluster start

Once again, the Clippers got off to a slow start and had to rally late against a lesser opponent. In the first quarter, the Clippers scored just 16 points on 30 percent shooting and had four turnovers. Meanwhile, the Wizards scored 24 points and shot 55 percent from the floor. That set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Wizards gained confidence and played to their full potential while the Clippers struggled to muster stretches of competent basketball. Besides a 34-second stint in the third quarter, the Clippers didn’t lead after the 9:56 mark of the first quarter.

Bledsoe outperforms Wall

Bledsoe and John Wall were teammates at the University of Kentucky, where Wall was the star and eventually taken by the Wizards with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Bledsoe, taken 18th overall in that draft, got the best of Wall in this matchup, outscoring the Washington guard 17 points to 13, dishing out more assists (9 to 8) and shooting better from the floor (7-for-14 compared to 6-for-18). In the end, Wall got the win, but Bledsoe’s performance shows just how far he’s come this season.

Injury bug affecting playoff seeding

There’s no denying the Clippers have one of the deepest teams in the league. But that depth has been put to the test over the past couple of weeks. To say the Clippers are banged up would be an understatement: Paul has missed eight straight games, Griffin is listed day-to-day, Crawford has a broken nose and Billups has played in only three games this season.

With their third straight loss, the Clippers (34-16) are now just two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (30-16) for the 3-seed, with the Golden State Warriors (30-17) and Denver Nuggets (30-18) also nipping at their heels.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 96, Wolves 90

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
8:40
PM PT
The Los Angeles Clippers had been in this position in their previous four road games. Each time the Clippers held a lead in the fourth quarter, and each time that lead quickly evaporated as the Clippers wilted under the pressure and eventually lost.

On Wednesday night, the Clippers again lost their fourth-quarter lead, but this time they came back to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 96-90. The win not only snapped the Clippers’ three-game road losing streak, but it gave the Clippers two straight wins and got the team's eight-game road trip off to a good start.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Griffin shines

No one has stepped up his game more in the absence of Chris Paul, who missed his eighth game with a bruised right kneecap, than Blake Griffin. For the third straight game Griffin had at least 23 points, finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds. The only missing aspect of his final stat line was zero assists, after having a combined 19 in his previous two games. Griffin had only one shot attempt in the fourth quarter and it was all he and the Clippers really needed, as his falling-down circus shot in the paint with time running out on the shot clock clinched the win.

“I couldn’t find anybody and that’s actually how I imagined it in my mind -- falling down and making it,” Griffin jokingly told Prime Ticket after the game. “Thankfully, it went in and we got some stops. But my teammates did a good job down the stretch.”

Front line help

As well as Griffin has played, he has needed more help from his frontcourt teammates, and he got just that on Wednesday night from DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler. Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. It was his first double-double since Jan. 1, his most rebounds since Nov. 23, and it was only the second time since Nov. 8 he had 16 or more points. Butler had 19 points and 5 rebounds and had a team-high 8 points in the third quarter.

“Everybody played well for us,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “D.J. was very productive for us. Caron hit some shots and hit that big 3 in the right corner. It was a good team win for us, but we have do a better job of making the game easier with ball movement and making some shots and being a little more consistent defensively.”

Temper, temper

Not only did the Clippers not have Paul and Chauncey Billups for the game, but Matt Barnes was ejected early in the second quarter with a flagrant-2 foul after shoving Greg Stiemsma around the throat after a hard screen. Butler and Ronny Turiaf also received technical fouls shortly after for going at Stiemsma as well. Barnes’ flagrant might also cost him another game or further discipline from the league. As much as the Clippers like Barnes’ toughness, now is not the time for him to be shoving players in the throat and missing games because of his temper. The rest of the Clippers also need to be smarter than following suit and getting involved in fights.

“We got to understand that there’s something bigger we’re fighting for,” Griffin said. “We have to keep our cool and do a better job of that.”

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
22.5 4.3 0.7 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 12.6
AssistsC. Paul 9.7
StealsC. Paul 1.8
BlocksD. Jordan 2.5