Los Angeles Clippers: Chauncey Billups

Clippers understand roles, expectations

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
DETROIT -- There was a familiar sight on the Los Angeles Clippers' sideline and in their locker room before and after Monday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.

During the national anthem and shortly after the game, Chauncey Billups, wearing a designer suit, was standing amongst the Clippers’ players and coaches, catching up with his former teammates.

It was a familiar sight, but thankfully for the Clippers, it was an image that is now in their rearview mirror.

As respected as Billups is, the truth is his presence and stranglehold on the starting shooting guard position (whenever he was able to play, that is) was never a solid long-term plan for a team that is trying to contend for the next five years.

AP Photo/Alex BrandonWhether a star on the court or a leader in the locker room, Doc Rivers' players understand their roles in making the Clippers a championship contender.
That’s not to say the Clippers failed to get out of the first or second round of the playoffs the past two seasons because of Billups, but the Clippers' insistence on depending on a 37-year-old guard who hadn’t played more than 22 games in a season for a team since 2011 was always a recipe for disaster.

Billups started just 22 games for the Clippers last season after returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He started just 20 games the previous season before suffering the injury. Instead of moving on, the Clippers continued to wait for Billups to return to the player he was before the injury, which was never going to happen.

Injuries happen, that’s part of basketball. No one knows that better than the Clippers, who are in the midst of playing without Chris Paul for six weeks after playing without J.J. Redick for six weeks, but that’s different than helplessly waiting around on a player who should have retired and was never going to return to All-Star form.

The Clippers don’t have a Billups problem on their hands this season. They knew Redick would return to form when he came back and Paul will eventually return to form when he comes back. They also aren’t depending on veterans who are past their prime -- like Grant Hill -- to contribute off the bench. As good as Billups and Hill might have been in the locker room, the truth is both should have retired before last season instead of being counted on as key players on a contending team.

When Doc Rivers came to Los Angeles, one of his first moves was to get a prototypical shooting guard who could, well, shoot, unlike Billups, who was a true point guard and shot less than 40 percent from the field with the Clippers. The Clippers made a trade and added Redick, who is shooting better than 45 percent from the field this season, and Jared Dudley, who replaced Caron Butler, another aging veteran on the Clippers who was well past his prime.

“It’s always nice to have a shooter who can move because it gives you a different kind of offense,” Rivers said. “It also helps both bigs be able to play on the floor more.”

Dealing with his players’ roles and expectations has always been one of Rivers’ better traits as a coach. It’s the ability to tell Antawn Jamison, who was upset with his diminished role last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, that he wanted him to come to the Clippers not to be a major contributor but rather be a leader in the locker room. The ability to tell Willie Green, who started 60 games last season in place of Billups, that he wanted him to be part of the team as well but not as a starter.

It’s a big reason Jamison and Green are two of the leaders in the Clippers’ locker room despite rarely getting on the court. That’s a big difference from Billups and Hill’s roles last season when both were not only leaders in the locker room but depended on to contribute on the court when they simply couldn’t.

“It is hard but in the veterans’ case they knew what they were getting when they came here,” Rivers said. “It’s still no fun. Everybody wants to play. You grew up playing basketball to play basketball, not to watch basketball. I don’t think that ever changes. I don’t care what age you are.

“It’s good to have a guy giving them positive information and not worrying about his playing time. A lot of the time you have veterans on the bench who are not happy about not playing and they don’t handle it well. Fortunately for us, our guys have been great. Willie Green and Antawn have been absolutely tremendous in that way.”

Green is 32 and has been in the NBA for 10 seasons while Jamison is 37 and has played 15 seasons. In their combined 25 seasons, the one common denominator between both players is neither has won a ring and that’s why they are more than happy being the role of locker room veterans on the team who rarely see the court. In fact, neither saw the floor against Detroit on Monday and haven’t played in the Clippers’ past four games.

“My biggest thing is the overall picture,” Jamison said. “The main reason I wanted to come here was to win. By me talking to DeAndre [Jordan], Blake [Griffin] and [Jared] Dudley when stuff is going on, I can let them see what I see and try to ease their mind a little bit and those guys are very receptive of what I have to say. They really take heed to it and that’s the biggest thing I can contribute.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Green, who was a starter for the majority of last season for the Clippers, including during their franchise-record 17-game winning streak and was quickly pulled as soon as Billups was healthy enough to play.

“I respect my teammates and when I’m not playing, I’m not one of those guys that’s moping and pouting and mad at the word,” Green said. “I want my teammates to do well. I want to be out there with them and try to help them get that win but if not, I’m going to cheer them on and help them on and be ready. I’ve been in this league long enough to know that things happen and when they do, you got to be ready to step up.”

Rivers made sure every player on the team from the stars to the reserves understood their roles before the season started. He met with each one individually and did the same with players he has added during the season, such as Hedo Turkoglu, who was signed last week. He knows he has a young team but they are all bound by one common goal and one simple fact -- none of them has won an NBA championship.

“The stars are going to be the stars,” Rivers said. “The role players, we got to get them to be stars in their role. I think the sell of that is important. The veterans are over themselves. They’re done with themselves. They’ve already had their day. They’re not trying to establish anything. They’re hungry and desperate to win. Young guys all say they want to win but they want their day and they really want to establish that. It takes time. With a young team, you have to convince them if you win, you will get your day.”

Clippers 2012-2013 grades: Starters

May, 8, 2013
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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.)


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 look to get tougher over offseason

May, 4, 2013
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers were still in shock Saturday.

They didn't expect to be out of the playoffs just two weeks after they started. Chris Paul didn't have any plans on his calendar until after June. He doesn't know how he's going to spend the rest of his summer now. He's still trying to process how to explain to his son, Little Chris, that the season is over.

But that's the harsh reality after another early playoff exit.

Despite setting a franchise record for wins (56) and securing their first Pacific Division championship, among various other season accolades, the Clippers couldn't manage to get any further in the playoffs this season than they did last season. If anything, they regressed, losing in the first round instead of the semifinals.

Without a doubt, the Clippers' top priority this offseason is re-signing Paul, and rightfully so. He's their franchise player, a superstar and arguably the best point guard in the league. With Blake Griffin already locked up until 2017, the Clippers hope to preserve their All-Star duo for at least the next half-decade.

Yet having Paul and Griffin alone won't get the Clippers to the Western Conference finals and beyond. It didn't even get them out of the first round this season, even after taking a 2-0 series lead against a team they had beaten in last year's playoffs and won the season series against, 3-1.

For the Clippers to take the next step as a franchise and endure longer postseason runs, they need to add younger and better-fitting pieces.

The Memphis Grizzlies exposed L.A.'s lack of big man depth behind Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and made the Clippers look old and slow on the perimeter. The Clippers also need to get a little tougher, as the Grizzlies pushed them around, controlling the paint, the boards and the series.

When asked at the Clippers' exit interviews if they needed to add toughness over the offseason, Matt Barnes said: "Yeah, definitely. I think that was exploited this series. We have a lot of talent, but we do need to [get tougher]. With our two bigs (Griffin and Jordan), I think people point a lot of fingers at them because they're young. But it's a learning experience. I'm 11 years in this and I'm still learning. We have to do a better job as a team."

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Clippers come to fight too late

May, 4, 2013
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.

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Rapid Reaction: Grizzlies 118, Clippers 105

May, 3, 2013
The greatest season in Los Angeles Clippers franchise history wasn't supposed to end this way.

A season in which the Clippers won a club-record 56 games, 17 straight, their first division title and swept the Los Angeles Lakers ended with a far too familiar early vacation it seemed this team was destined to avoid.

After jumping out to the best record in the NBA through the first half of the season, the Clippers' season wasn't supposed to be over just six games into the playoffs.

It wasn't supposed to end with a first-round exit after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies.

It wasn't supposed to end with four straight losses to a Grizzlies team they had beaten six of seven times and three straight in Memphis.

It wasn't supposed to end with a battered Blake Griffin sitting on the bench and an ejected Chris Paul sitting in the locker room watching their season slip away earlier than it did a season ago.

But that's exactly what happened as the Grizzlies beat the Clippers 118-105 Friday night to eliminate L.A. in six games and advance to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. The loss not only eliminated the Clippers from the playoffs but likely set in motion a series of changes the team will undergo in the offseason.

How it happened: The Clippers were already having a hard time defending Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph when Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were at full strength. With Griffin limited because of a high ankle sprain that limited him to just 14 minutes off the bench, it was hard to contain the Grizzlies' big-man duo. They combined for 33 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. It wasn't their best game together, but it also didn't have to be as Tony Allen stepped up and scored 19 points and Mike Conley had 23 points.

What it means: Not even the greatest season in Clippers history was enough to get them into the conference finals for the first time. In fact, it wasn't even enough to get them out of the first round. The Clippers looked destined to face an Oklahoma City team playing without Russell Westbrook for a chance to play in the conference finals. Instead, they are forced to go back to the drawing board after taking a step back.

Hits: One of the biggest surprises for the Clippers this season has been Matt Barnes, who was signed for the veteran's minimum before the start of training camp at the urging of Paul, who played with him during a few pickup games. Barnes responded with a career season and one of the best games of his career Friday night. He had 30 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes off the bench for the Clippers and kept them in the game until the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies pulled away.

Misses: When the Clippers entered the playoffs, many pointed to the health of Chauncey Billups, who was lost midway through last season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Billups, however, was a nonfactor in the Clippers' final four losses and picked up three fouls in about three minutes. He had four points on 1-of-3 shooting Friday. He had three points in Game 5 and had zero points in Game 4. Not exactly the kind of performances the Clippers were waiting for all season from "Mr. Big Shot."

Stat of the game: There are plenty of stats that stand out, but the ones that will be talked about for days are the whopping 59 personal fouls, seven technical fouls and two ejections (Paul and Randolph). Referees are supposed to let the players decide games in the playoffs, but official Joey Crawford made this one about himself and looked well on his way to ejecting everyone on the court by the end of the game.

Up next: Friday's game was the biggest in Clippers history because of what the fallout would be if they lost. Now that they have lost, the Clippers begin an offseason in which their coach (Vinny Del Negro), general manager (Gary Sacks) and franchise player (Paul) are all free agents. Now, who stays and who goes will depend largely on what Paul wants to do and if he thinks the Clippers can eventually become a championship team.

How Clippers can bounce back in Game 5

April, 29, 2013

Here are three ways the Clippers can bounce back in Game 5:

Lean on their stars more

It’s not uncommon to see superstars play 40-plus minutes a night in the playoffs, as most teams don’t have enough depth to remain viable with their bench players on the floor.

The Clippers clearly don’t have that problem, as they have arguably the best bench in the league, but their depth has actually worked against them this postseason: It has prevented them from playing their stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as much as they probably should play them.

Currently, 13 players are averaging 40 or more minutes per game (MPG) this postseason. In the regular season, no one averaged more than 38.7 MPG, implying a considerable uptick for more than a dozen players.

On that list you’ll find Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who has averaged 40.8 minutes per game despite the fact that the Grizzlies have backup big men Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis, who would start on a lot of teams. Mike Conley, Paul’s counterpart, isn’t far behind Gasol, having already logged 37-plus minutes in three of the four games.

Meanwhile, Paul and Blake Griffin are averaging 35 and 31 minutes per game, respectively. Paul has yet to play more than 36 minutes, and Griffin has yet to log more than 34.

While foul trouble has certainly hampered Griffin’s minutes, he actually played more in Game 3 (33 minutes), when he had five fouls, than in Game 4 (32 minutes), when he had only three. In comparison, Zach Randolph, who also battled foul trouble in Games 1 and 2, played 37 minutes in both Games 3 and 4.

There are unforeseen issues, such as injuries or foul trouble, which can inhibit a star from playing 40 minutes. But those factors notwithstanding, the Clippers can afford to lean on Paul and Griffin more and reap the benefits.

Help off non-shooters more aggressively

In Games 1 and 2, the Clippers thwarted the Grizzlies’ post-ups and high-low action by largely ignoring Memphis’ wings spotting up. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince aren’t 3-point-shooting threats, so the Clippers were able to help off of them and either hedge or double-team down low.

Not only did their aggressive approach halt the Grizzlies’ big men from gaining extra ground on the block -- by making them pick their dribble up or stop short at times -- but it also put them in better rebounding position.

In Games 3 and 4, however, the Clipper wings were more conservative in their defensive approach, rarely helping off their man and often leaving Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to try to defend Gasol and Randolph one-on-one. As the rebounding margin and points in the paint show, the results were disastrous.

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins elected to play Quincy Pondexter, a 39.5 percent 3-point shooter this season, more minutes in Memphis, resulting in a slight increase in the Grizzlies’ 3-point attempts from 11.5 on the road to 14.0 at home (although the shots still weren’t falling). This adjustment stretched out the Clippers’ defense and allowed the Grizzlies to put a larger, longer defender on Paul.

Regardless of the lineups they deploy, the Grizzlies have yet to make more than five 3-pointers in a game this series and are shooting a paltry 29.4 percent beyond the arc. During the regular season, the Grizzlies weren’t much better, making 4.2 3-pointers per game on 32.6 percent shooting; both figures ranked in the bottom five of the league.

By any measure, the Grizzlies are subpar 3-shooting team. Until they win a game by burning the Clippers from deep, L.A. needs to regain its focus on limiting Randolph and Gasol in the paint.

Stagger the starting lineups’ minutes

Throughout these playoffs, the Clippers have constantly shuffled their lineups, with only three five-man units logging 15 or more minutes. As such, it’s difficult to glean much from the lineup data. However, this much is clear: The starting lineup has struggled immensely against the Grizzlies.

In 59 minutes (the most by any lineup), the group has mustered a 96.8 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which would rank lower than the Washington Wizards’ 97.8 last-place rating, and a defensive rating of 117.3 (points allowed per 100 possessions), significantly lower than the Charlotte Bobcat’s 108.9 last-place mark.

Overall, the lineup has a net rating of minus-20.5 (net differential per 100 possessions).

Conversely, the Grizzlies’ starting lineup, which has played 66 minutes, has a 110.5 offensive rating and a 90.8 defensive rating (both figures would lead the league) and an impressive +19.7 net rating.

Since Paul and Griffin should already be playing more, the changes will have to come from the three players around them.

Billups appears to be the weakest link, as he’s been a nonfactor offensively in two games already (30 percent shooting overall) and hasn’t been able to defend Allen in the open court -- he’s shooting 52.2 percent with Billups on the floor and 44.4 percent with Billups on the bench.

Whether it’s tweaking the starting lineup by inserting the energy of Matt Barnes or Eric Bledsoe, or just playing those two a little earlier in the game, the Clippers have to figure out a way to have more success in the beginning of games.

Stats used in this post are from ESPN Stats & Information and NBA.com/Stats.

Rapid Reaction: Grizzlies 104, Clippers 83

April, 27, 2013

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: Grizzlies 94, Clippers 82

April, 25, 2013

After Monday's buzzer-beating, game-winning shot in Game 2, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was hailed as perhaps the best closer in the NBA. Three days later in Memphis, Paul was never put in a position to close Game 3 and he had as much to do with that as anyone on the team.

Paul finished with eight points and five turnovers to go along with four assists and six rebounds. He was 4-of-11 from the field, missing both of his attempts from beyond the arc, including an air ball in the fourth quarter before he was finally taken out with the game out of reach as the Memphis Grizzlies won 94-82.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the Clippers' first loss in their past 10 games, and their first loss in Memphis in nearly a year, but Paul's performance would have to be near the top of the list. He is the engine that makes this team go and it was sputtering from the opening tip Thursday. Paul didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter, missing his only attempt and committing two turnovers, as the Grizzlies pushed their lead to 16 points and forced Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to pull his starters and wave the white flag.

How it happened: Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph came out possessed from the start. He scored 18 points in the first half, which was as much as Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Lamar Odom, Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf did up until that point. The tandem of Randolph and Marc Gasol (43 points) ended up scoring almost as much as the Clippers' starting lineup (47 points) when the game was over.

What it means: Take a quick look at the box score and it's not hard to see how the Grizzlies were able to beat the Clippers. They outrebounded the Clippers (45-33), had more points in the paint (40-26), had more second-chance points (22-4), shot more free throws (38-23) and had fewer turnovers (18-10).

Hits: The lone bright spot for the Clippers was they defended the Grizzlies well for the most part. They held Memphis to 38.8 percent shooting from the field, 25 percent from beyond the arc and the Grizzlies hit only 73.7 percent from the free throw line. In fact, the Clippers shot the same percentage from the field and were better from 3-point range (39.1 percent) and on free throws (73.7 percent) than Memphis but were not able to overcome the other discrepancies in the box score.

Misses: One of the consistent forces for the Clippers in this series (and whenever the Clippers play the Grizzlies) has been Bledsoe, but on Thursday night he was a non-factor. Bledsoe was 0-for-4 from the field in a little less than 15 minutes and looked completely lost on the court before he was finally taken out.

Stat of the game: There are so many to choose from in favor of the Grizzlies, but Memphis' rebounding advantage (45-33) and points-in-the-paint advantage (40-26) is key considering how the Clippers have dominated the paint and the boards so far in this series.

Up next: The Clippers never expected to sweep the Grizzlies. In fact, before the Clippers left Los Angeles for Memphis after Wednesday's practice, they said their goal was to steal one game in Memphis and put themselves in a position to close out the series at home in Game 5. The Clippers will get a chance to "steal" that game on Saturday in Game 4.

Eric Bledsoe rises to the challenge

April, 21, 2013
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe had a coming-out party during last year's playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. If the beginning of this year's series against the Grizzlies is any indication, it could be the beginning of his farewell party. Well, in Los Angeles anyway.

Bledsoe averaged 3.3 points, 1.7 assists and 1.6 rebounds during the regular season last season but those averages spiked to 7.9 points, 2.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds during the playoffs. This season, Bledsoe averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds during the regular season but had 15 points, four assists and six rebounds in Game 1.

[+] EnlargeEric Bledsoe
Harry How/Getty ImagesEric Bledsoe has started the 2013 playoffs much the same way he did last season's.
The 23-year-old point guard is progressively improving and Chris Paul knows it's only a matter of time before he will be forced to play against him instead of alongside of him.

"Bled is one of the best guards in our league," Paul said after practice Sunday. "I've said it all season long. I'm enjoying playing with him right now because there's no way he can be here next year because we probably won't have enough money to pay him. He should be a starting point guard in this league next year."

Bledsoe is actually under contract for next season at $2.6 million, but Paul's words may be the clearest indication yet that he fully intends to sign the five-year, $108 million contract extension the Clippers plan to offer him in the offseason. He knows as long as he is the Clippers' point guard; there simply is no room for Bledsoe.

Chauncey Billups, who had 14 points in Game 1, also said last week that he fully intends to play next season and would like to return to the Clippers. Willie Green, who started 60 games this season at shooting guard, could also return next season as the Clippers hold a team option at just $1.4 million.

So with his trade value at an all-time high and the Clippers having a potentially crowded backcourt next season, the team could end up trading Bledsoe to upgrade at another position. Bledsoe was rumored to be included in a package with DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett during the All-Star break, but that never materialized.

The Clippers, however, don't need to worry about Bledsoe's future right now as they figure out how to utilize him while they still have him. One option that the Clippers toyed with Saturday is playing Bledsoe along with Paul and Billups, which helped the Clippers close out the game.

"It gives you almost like a three-headed monster," Paul said. "It almost took me back to my college days [at Wake Forest] when I was with Justin Gray and Taron Downey. Bled's that blur. He probably runs faster than me and Chauncey put together. And me and Chauncey are a little more crafty and things like that. ... I think it gave us a little more versatility. They didn't know who to guard."

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'Three-headed monster' keys Clippers victory

April, 21, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers aren't the first team to employ a three-guard lineup, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another quite like the one they used Saturday night.

The Clippers used three point guards at the same time and the lineup was instrumental in putting away the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series at Staples Center.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul and Chauncey Billups
Harry How/Getty ImagesChauncey Billups and Chris Paul are only two-thirds of the Clippers trio of guards who played together down the stretch Saturday. Eric Bledsoe is the third.
The Clippers won in a 112-91 rout, but it was a one-point game with 10:11 to play before Eric Bledsoe took over with 13 of his 15 points coming in the final 10 minutes. Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups started the final quarter on the bench and returned with the Clippers leading, 90-79, and that's when the game got out of hand.

"It gives you almost like a three-headed monster," said Paul, who scored five of his game-high 23 points in the final five minutes. "It just gave us some versatility. They didn't know who to guard. I think it was just something different and it worked for us tonight."

This is not a lineup that has been on the floor together much this season, and it turned into a bit of a secret weapon against a familiar opponent in Memphis. The teams played a tight, seven-game playoff series last season, but Billups was out injured. This season, Billups played only one of the four games between the teams, and Bledsoe missed that game.

Paul also missed a game against Memphis this season, so this was definitely the first time the Grizzlies had seen the lineup in person. After watching a close game turn into a rout with those three on the court at the same time, the Grizzlies can only hope it's the last time they see the lineup.

"I guess Coach had a great feeling about that lineup and wanted to stick with that," Bledsoe said. "I think we did a great job with him having that confidence in us."

All three can shoot, and they did it well Saturday. Bledsoe was a scorching 7-for-7 from the field. Paul made 7 of 11 shots and Billups made 4-of-8 for 14 points. Paul and Billups combined for five 3-point baskets in eight attempts.

Their shooting abilities are enough of a concern, but add in the fact that Paul and Billups have been All-Star point guards on multiple occasions, and Bledsoe -- in his third season -- is a rising star, and the lineup can cause headaches for opponents.

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Rapid Reaction: Clippers 112, Kings 108

April, 17, 2013
The Los Angeles Clippers knew what was at stake heading into Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Sacramento Kings. Win the game and they clinch home-court advantage against the Memphis Grizzlies. Lose and they open the first round of the playoffs on the road.

To complicate matters, the game would possibly be the last ever played in Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena, as it has yet to be decided by the NBA whether the franchise will be sold to a group planning to move the Kings to Seattle and become the Supersonics in the offseason or stay in Sacramento with new, local ownership. As a result, Kings fans were loud and passionate, and the players -- despite having nothing to play for in the standings -- were inspired.

Before tipoff, the Clippers were notified that both the Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets had won earlier in the day, adding even more pressure.

The game was set up for the Clippers to fail, and they almost did, barely eking out a 112-108 win over the emotional Kings. With the win, the Clippers capped off the most successful regular season in franchise history on a high note, setting records in home wins (32) and road wins (24), to go along with a slew of other milestones.

Chris Paul scored 24 points and dished out 11 assists, and Chauncey Billups showed the Clippers what they’ve been missing for most of the season with 17 points.

Blake Griffin, who tweaked his back shooting during warmups and posted only seven points (3-of-10 shooting) and four rebounds, had a momentary scare late in the first half when he fell on his backside and had to leave the game with back spasms. He returned in the second half, albeit visibly hobbled and limited. After the game, he said he felt fine and it shouldn’t be an issue in the playoffs.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night’s regular-season finale:

Game of runs

Neither team played consistent basketball, but the Clippers’ talent disparity was enough to overcome the Kings’ isolation-heavy offense. The Clippers started the second quarter on an 11-1 run, then maintained that pace to hold a 54-46 edge at halftime. But after the Clippers took a 59-50 lead with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter, the Kings responded with a 10-0 run of their own to take their first lead since the first seconds of the game. Paul soon took control and helped L.A. regain the lead. Marcus Thornton certainly made things interesting for the Kings in the fourth with a flurry of 3-pointers. The Clippers were still only up by three points with seven seconds left before Paul made one of two free throws for the final margin.

Crawford’s record-setting night

As Crawford’s third 3-pointer sank through the net, he passed Rasual Butler (145) for the most 3-pointers in a single season by a Clipper. By the time the game was over, Crawford had made six 3-pointers, setting the new mark at 149. His last two 3-pointers, though, were arguably the most important. First, he gave the Clippers a 100-98 lead off a step-back 3-pointer with 2:08 left. Then he made a corner 3 to put the Clips up 103-98 with 1:37 remaining. Griffin and Paul made key baskets down the stretch, and Billups nailed important free throws, but Crawford’s 24 points and six assists were the difference.

“Jamal Crawford made big shot after big shot,” Paul said after the game.

Securing home court

With the victory, the Clippers (56-26) tied the Grizzlies (56-26) for the fourth-best record in the West but secured home-court advantage for the series. The Clippers, by virtue of winning their division, earned home-court advantage in the tiebreaker. Even if that wasn’t the rule, the Clippers won the season series with the Grizzlies 3-1, so they would’ve had the tiebreaker anyway. The Clippers will host Game 1 against the Grizzlies on Saturday night, which is a step up from last season, when L.A. had to win Games 1 and 7 in Memphis before capturing their first-round series.

Chauncey Billups ready for the 'real season'

April, 16, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Chauncey Billups put a towel over his head and buttoned up his warm-ups with a stern look on his face. When he heard his name announced in the starting lineup at Staples Center for the first time in a month, he kept his head down and walked through his teammates like a heavyweight fighter headed toward the ring.

Even though it was the Los Angeles Clippers' final regular-season home game and the penultimate game of the season, Billups considered Tuesday's 93-77 win over the Portland Trail Blazers a preseason game.

[+] EnlargeBillups
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesChauncey Billups, left, returned to the starting lineup for the Clippers on Tuesday, to the delight of teammate Chris Paul.
Then again, Billups considers all games played before the postseason to be preseason games. That's what happens when you've been to the playoffs 12 years in a row, led your team to seven straight conference finals and back-to-back NBA Finals, and won an NBA Finals MVP.

"I always refer to the regular season as the preseason," Billups said. "That's just how I've been raised in the league. Everything is different in the playoffs and in playoff time. It's the best time of the year. Everything changes. The stakes are higher. The pressure is more intense. And our preparation should be more intense."

That might be true, but there is also something to be said for developing some semblance of consistency and chemistry with your teammates during the regular season. And for all the postseason experience Billups brings to the table, he hasn't been on the court very much for the Clippers during his two seasons in Los Angeles. He played in only 20 games last season before rupturing his Achilles tendon in February and being lost for the season. Before Tuesday's game, he had played in only 20 games this season as he came back from that Achilles injury and dealt with various other injuries.

"We've been trying to get Chauncey out there a lot," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's only played 20 games or so. He knows how to play. He gives us another dimension out there making plays off the basketball, shooting the basketball, but he's got to get out there and get his rhythm and his chemistry with the guys. We've been trying to incorporate that all season, but he's had his nagging injuries. It's unfortunate."

While Billups has battled to get back onto the court, Willie Green has played in 72 games this season and started 60 of them. Yes, Green has played in and started more games this season than Billups has in his two seasons combined with the Clippers. Despite developing that consistency and chemistry with the Clippers' starters, however, Green hardly plays when Billups is active. On Tuesday, Green went from averaging 18.5 minutes and 10.2 points per game this month to playing the final six garbage minutes of the game and scoring two points.

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Rapid Reaction: Clippers 93, Blazers 77

April, 16, 2013

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.

Billups sits out sixth straight game

April, 10, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups won't play Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, missing his sixth straight game and ninth of the team's last 10 games because of a strained right groin.

Billups returned to practice Tuesday and there is no timetable for his return.

"I don't have an answer for that yet," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said when asked when Billups would return. "I really don't know. It's kind of a day to day thing how he feels and what the trainer tells me how he responds to working out and playing."

On Tuesday, Billups participated in the Clippers' scrimmage but was limited. He also shot around with the team before Wednesday's game.

"He was good," Del Negro said. "He didn't do a lot. We didn't have a ton of contact. He did a little bit of it so no setbacks which was good, but we'll make those decisions on a daily basis as the trainer tells me."

Billups wasn't sure when he would return but said it would be before the playoffs. The Clippers have only four games left in the regular season after Wednesday.

"Oh yeah," Billups said. "I'll be back before then."

When asked if this would be his last season and potentially his last postseason, Billups shook his head.

"No," he said. "Not at all."

Billups, 36, has played just 20 games this season, averaging 8.2 points and 2.2 assists, while battling through a variety of injuries.

"We're really taking it day by day and having some tough workouts and testing it and challenging it and seeing how I feel the next day," Billups said. "I'm not sure exactly when I'll be back. I'm just following the leadership of the trainers and apparently I'm just not quite ready yet. So I trust them and I listen to them."

When Billups does come back, he doesn't believe there will be much of a transition period for him.

"It'll be easy," Billups said. "I've been doing this so long, I know how to stay out of the way and do what I do. I will be fine. I hope they will. I've been doing this a long time. It's more them than me. ... In my eyes, this is all just the preseason. The real season is coming up and I'm hoping to be ready."

Chauncey Billups practices, eyes return

April, 9, 2013
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups practiced Tuesday for the first time since aggravating his strained right groin on March 27 in a game against the New Orleans Hornets, according to Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro.

Billups, who initially suffered the injury March 19 against the Sacramento Kings, had been limited to shooting and non-contact drills, but participated in full-court drills and 5-on-5 scrimmages Tuesday.

Del Negro said he wasn't sure if Billups would play Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but said Billups will likely return before the regular season ends April 17.

"It's all about how he feels tomorrow," Del Negro said. "He looked pretty good. We didn't go long today, but we went pretty hard for 30 or 40 minutes. He looked good."

The Clippers practiced with a full roster for one of the first times all season, as Del Negro confirmed that all 15 players participated. Still, Del Negro wouldn't speculate as to when Billups would return.

With Billups, a career 38.8 percent 3-point shooter and steady ball-handler with playoff experience, constantly in and out of the lineup, the Clippers have had to make adjustments on a game-to-game basis.

"You'd love to have everybody play a little bit and get that rhythm and that feel back," Blake Griffin said after practice Tuesday. "But I said this when we were waiting for him to come back from his Achilles [injury], he's the least of my worries when it comes to somebody who's going to come in and contribute. Whether he's scoring or not, his presence out there is an advantage for us."

Whether he returns before the regular season ends or when the playoffs begin, his teammates are confident he will fit in seamlessly.

"It's an adjustment, but I think with Chauncey because of his knowledge of the game ... when he comes back, it's like he never missed a beat," Chris Paul said after practice.

Billups, 36, has played only 20 games this season, averaging 8.2 points and 2.2 assists. He has battled an assortment of injuries, but the Clippers remain optimistic he will contribute as a key role player throughout the playoffs.

"Chauncey brings a whole different dynamic to our team," Paul said. "The way he shoots the ball in the game, foul shooting, ball handling, and everybody around the league fears Chauncey, to a certain extent, because he's not afraid to make and take big shots.

"He just knows the game."