Los Angeles Clippers: Lamar Odom
"One of the teams I was looking at was the Clippers," World Peace said Wednesday before the Knicks played the Clippers at Staples Center. "I was at the Clippers' facility the whole summer, but I just felt like the biggest challenge in the world is New York City, so when I was picking where I wanted to go I was like, you know, I want to go somewhere with the big biggest challenge."
It has certainly been a challenge so far for World Peace in New York as the Knicks are 3-10, losers of six straight entering Wednesday. World Peace has played in 11 games, starting none and averaging a career-low 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds.
"You don't know what type of challenge is going to be in front of you but this is one," World Peace said. "I learned a lot here [in Los Angeles] on how to deal with different challenges. If it wasn't for [Derek] Fisher and Kobe [Bryant] and Phil [Jackson] and those guys, I wouldn't have known how to deal with all the challenges."
World Peace recently got in touch with his friend and former teammate Lamar Odom, who has been working out in the hopes of making a comeback with the Clippers at some point this season.
"I spoke to him and he's working out," World Peace said. "I'm happy that I spoke to him. I was a little bit upset because I know he's in another stage in his life now, but when you know somebody since they're 11 years old and they're going through adversity and you can't get to them, me and Elton [Brand] were very upset. We won a championship together, we played with each other since we were kids, and we came into the league together and were on the same team for years. Now our brother is in a little bit of trouble and we don't know where he's at, so me and Elton were pretty concerned. I finally hunted his number down and I talked to him and was relieved after that. It was stressful."
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed the greatest season in team history last season. They won a franchise-best 56 games, won their first division title and 17 straight games along the way.
They celebrated this milestone by firing their head coach and revamping their roster.
Perhaps nothing speaks to the new expectations of the Clippers more than their approach to this offseason. It’s no longer enough to re-write their own record books, they want to win an NBA championship.
They took a big step in that direction when they acquired Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics and made him their head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations. Combine that with locking up Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the next five years and for the first time in team history the Clippers have a solid foundation for continued success.
With Clippers training camp starting next week, let’s take a look at the top 10 questions heading into the 2013-14 season.
1. What will Doc Rivers’ impact be?
No matter what you think of Vinny Del Negro and the job he did with the Clippers over the last two seasons, it was clear he had lost the team by the end of their fourth consecutive loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first road of last season’s playoffs.
Rivers is universally respected by players and his peers and is the perfect face of a franchise trying to establish itself as a contender. He not only comes in with the cache of having won a championship recently but he also comes into the organization with more authority in the front office than just about anyone not named Donald Sterling. He won’t be thought of as a figure head.
The Clippers became relevant when they got Griffin, they became a playoff team when they got Paul and they feel they now have become a championship-caliber team with Rivers.
2. How long will it take this year’s team build chemistry?
One of the main reasons Rivers has decided to take his team down to San Diego for the first week of training camp is to build team chemistry. He doesn’t want players coming to practice in the morning and driving home in different directions in the afternoon. He wants them to go golfing together at Torrey Pines, walk the La Jolla shores and maybe even go to Sea World.
Teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio will open the season miles ahead of the Clippers in the chemistry department because their coaching staff and core group of players are the same. The Clippers need to find a way to fast-forward that learning process and Rivers believes getting away from home for a week and spending time together will accomplish that goal.
3. What will the depth chart look like?
The Clippers will likely add a few camp bodies but if they decide to keep 15 players on their opening night roster the only real battle may be between Brandon Davis and Lou Amundson for a reserve role in the front court. Most of the other positions are pretty much set. If the Clippers go with Davies and keep 15, here’s how the depth chart would look:
PF: Blake Griffin -- Antawn Jamison -- Brandon Davies
The Clippers are clearly stacked in the backcourt where Paul and Redick are not only a formidable duo but you’re not going to do much better than Collison and Crawford when it comes to backups in the backcourt. Where the Clippers are thin is in their front court depth. Griffin, Jordan and Dudley are solid starters but can the Clippers depend on Jamison, Mullens or Hollins if Griffin or Jordan go down or get in foul trouble?
4. How will this year’s version of “A Tribe Called Bench” look?
Last year’s second unit was so good that they had a nickname, T-shirts and a music video that played in the second half of games they closed out. This year’s unit will look slightly different with Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Grant Hill gone. While the loss of Bledsoe will certainly hurt the Clippers’ ability to change the pace of the game, Collison is a solid replacement and the Clippers figure to be much more proficient offensively when they go to the bench with Jamison and Mullens. The problem will be on the defensive end where neither figures to be much of a factor. The Clippers are still one of the deepest teams in the league but they are still thin in the frontcourt, which didn't hurt them much in the regular season but was a huge factor when they were outmuscled in the playoffs.
5. Is this the season DeAndre Jordan lives up to his contract and potential?
It seems like this has become an annual question for the Clippers since Jordan signed a four-year, $43 million contract in 2011. The answers going into this season are very much like they have been in the past. Jordan has been a gym rat in the offseason. He is working on his free throw shooting and his offensive game and figures to have a career season. That’s what the message was before last season where he shot 38.6 percent from the free throw line during the season and 22.2 percent from the line in the playoffs. He was constantly upset with Del Negro for sitting him at the end of games but that won’t change with Rivers unless Jordan can improve his free throw percentage significantly. Rivers has told Jordan that he can be an all defensive player and an all star if he wants it bad enough. We’ll see this season how badly Jordan wants it.
“The No. 1 priority for us right now has to be re-signing our star player, Chris Paul,” Sacks said at Day 2 of the Clippers’ exit interviews. “That's our goal, that's what we want to do.”
While the Clippers’ early playoff exit certainly doesn’t sit well with their free agent superstar, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has reported that Paul will likely stay in Los Angeles and accept the nearly $30 million extra the Clippers can offer him.
Heading into the offseason, the Clippers only have six players under fully guaranteed contracts: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Grant Hill. Willie Green’s contract is non-guaranteed for the next two seasons, meaning the Clippers can waive him to alleviate cap space.
The collective salaries of the group equal 46.7 million ($45.3 million if Green is waived before July 1). If Paul signs the five-year, $108 million extension the Clippers can offer, his first-year salary would be a little under $18.7 million, bringing the Clippers’ salary total to $66.5 million, including the 25th overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft (the average salary at that slot is about $1.1 million).
ESPN cap guru Larry Coon projects a $71.5 million to $73 million tax line in 2013-14, meaning with only nine players under contract -- the league minimum is 13 -- the Clippers would have $5 to $7 million to spend on at least four players in free agency and still remain under the dreadful luxury tax.
With six free agents -- Paul, Matt Barnes, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins -- and no decision announced yet on the future of their Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers will have a slew of difficult decisions to make in what Sacks calls a “huge” offseason.
Here are three things to look for this offseason:
Deciding on the future of Jordan and Bledsoe
The young duo was nearly packaged alongside Butler to the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline, and it’s looking more and more like one of them, if not both, will eventually be dealt.
Bledsoe is more likely to be traded than Jordan, as the back-up point guard is due for a significant raise next summer as a restricted free agent. Many, including Paul, believe Bledsoe should be starting on his own team.
That being said, it’s unlikely the Clippers move Bledsoe -- the ultimate insurance policy -- until Paul is locked up, which would be July 1 at the earliest. If the right move comes along though, especially around the NBA Draft in late June, Bledsoe could be moved sooner.
While Jordan has yet to play up to the standards of the hefty contract he signed last summer, it’ll be more difficult to replace him because athletic 7-footers are hard to come by and provide unquantifiable value on defense.
Still, the Clippers are in win-now mode and don’t have time to wait for Jordan to blossom an offensive game or become competent at free throw shooting. If he’s unable to play in crunch time, he isn’t worth keeping around.
It’s unlikely the Clippers keep both players, but still possible. Bledsoe has proven he can play shooting guard alongside Paul, and his stout perimeter defense is a game-changer; Jordan has improved every year and may finally breakthrough with a solidified role and consistent playing time.
Nevertheless, these two will be the centerpieces of any trade talks the Clippers have over the offseason.
Big man with shooting range
One of the biggest problems for the Clippers offensively this season was that besides Griffin -- who’s at his best when operating down on the low block -- they didn’t have a big man that could space the floor and stretch opposing defenses out with his shooting.
Odom was supposed to fill that role, but his shooting stroke deserted him for the second straight season. He shot 39.9 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from the beyond the arc, figures that ranked as the second worst of his career.
Meanwhile, Jordan, Turiaf and Hollins combined to make 9 shots beyond 10 feet all season. Defenses often ignored the latter two and only paid attention to Jordan because of the ever-looming threat of a lob from Paul.
No matter who he played with, Griffin was always paired with an offensive non-factor, forcing him to single-handedly carry the interior-scoring burden. After he sprained his ankle before Game 5 of the 2013 postseason, no one else stepped up -- the remaining big men combined to average just 15 points per game over the final two games of the series.
With the Clippers on a strict budget, and floor-spacing big men a hot commodity, it’s unlikely they find a guy without severe flaws (especially defensively). Regardless, finding a shooting big man who can play with Griffin for 10-15 minutes a night will spruce up the Clippers’ offense.
Potential fits: Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, Dante Cunningham (Team Option), Anthony Tolliver, Jon Leuer (Restricted Free Agent)
Athletic wing defender with size
The Clippers’ perimeter defenders made the Grizzlies’ wings look like All-Stars this postseason, even though none of the Grizzlies’ perimeter players averaged double-digit scoring numbers during the season.
With Butler, Crawford and Green as the only wings under contract, the Clippers will undoubtedly need to address their perimeter defense, as none of those guys are “stoppers”. To contend for a championship next year, the Clippers will need a couple of players who can feasibly defend the Kobe Bryants and Kevin Durants of the world without being burned.
Barnes did a great job filling this role this year, but due to the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement (the Clippers don’t own his Bird Rights), the Clippers can only offer him up to 120 percent of his current contract, which is a little over $1.6 million. If Barnes wants to stay in L.A., he’ll have to take a significant pay cut compared to his projected market value. Chances are, though, he bolts for more money and a larger role, as he’s already stated he wants a pay increase.
While a lot of the shooting big men in the Clippers’ price range will be defensively challenged, most free agent wing defenders will likewise be offensively challenged. There’s a reason why they’re not getting paid more.
Ideally, the Clippers would sign someone with the size and/or length to play power forward in small ball lineups, while also possessing the ability to shoot corner 3-pointers. If they can sign two such players -- one to start and one to come off the bench -- they should be set on the perimeter.
Potential fits: Barnes, Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Ronnie Brewer, Brandon Rush (Player Option), Marquis Daniels
Stats used in this piece are from ESPN.com and NBA.com/Stats.
Salary cap information used from ESPN.com, HOOPSWORLD.com, CBAFAQ.com and ClipperBlog.com.
Fredrick J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
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. We’ll take a step back and try to grade what each player brought to the table, beginning with the bench. Check back for grades on the starters and the Clippers' coaching staff and front office.
Crawford didn’t come into this season with any grand personal expectations other than winning after signing a four-year, $25 million contract last summer with the Clippers, but it didn’t take him long to change his tune. Crawford expected to be selected as an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career and to win his second NBA Sixth Man of the Year award by season’s end. Neither goal was achieved, but it didn’t take away from the incredible season Crawford had.
“It's more about winning than anything,” Crawford said. “I know a lot of people say go out there and prove why you should win this or that, but I feel I've been proving it all season. So it's not about that. You just want to go out and win.”
When Crawford was on, the Clippers and their bench were at their best. He was second on the team in scoring and ranked third in the NBA this season in fourth-quarter scoring, behind Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. He led the league in 20-point games off the bench and was second in the league in fourth-quarter plus-minus, finishing just behind LeBron James. He also was atop all NBA reserves in scoring per 26 minutes and in simple plus-minus.
16.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, .438 FG, .376 3FG: After a couple of rough seasons in Atlanta and Portland, Crawford returned to the old form he had when he won the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Hawks in 2010 and nearly won the award this season, finishing second.
Outlook for 2013-14
Crawford might be one of three Clippers pieces likely set in stone if Chris Paul ends up re-signing. The Clippers believe they have arguably the best point guard, power forward and sixth man in basketball with Paul, Blake Griffin and Crawford. Everything else is negotiable. Expect to see plenty of names end up in trade rumors this offseason but no serious one will include Crawford, who has three more years on his deal and who could contend for an All-Star appearance or two or a Sixth Man award during that time.
A: He may not have had the best postseason (no one on the Clippers did) but it’s hard to ask for a better regular season from a bench player.
Arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA had another solid season and showed why he should be starting on another team if Paul re-signs with the Clippers. When Paul went down with an injury during the regular season, Bledsoe stepped in and averaged 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.43 steals in starts.
“Bled is one of the best guards in our league," Paul said last month. “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.”
The Clippers don’t need to deal Bledsoe in the offseason but once Paul re-signs they’d be wise to start looking for suitors. One of the more popular destinations has been Boston in a package that would include DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. Considering Bledsoe had 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against the Celtics earlier this season, it’s not hard to see why Boston would be interested.
8.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, .445 FG, .397 3FG: Bledsoe’s statistics took a massive jump from his sophomore season when he battled back from knee surgery.
Outlook for 2013-14
Bledsoe’s future with the Clippers really hinges on Paul’s decision this offseason. If he decided to stay, the Clippers would be wise in looking to deal the up-and-coming point guard for pieces that will help the Clippers compete for a championship this season with Paul. If Paul decides to leave, Bledsoe immediately becomes the team’s new starting point guard and they would move forward with Bledsoe and Griffin, while trying to add another big piece in free agency.
The smart money is on Paul saying, and the Clippers shipping Bledsoe in a package that would net the Clippers an experienced player who would help them compete for a championship.
B: Bledsoe’s continued improvement is a big reason the Clippers have been careful not to trade him too soon. He is their safety net if Paul bolts, but he is also their most intriguing bargaining chip when they enter the trade market, looking for pieces to add to the team this summer if Paul stays.
The last player signed before the start of Clippers training camp to a veteran’s minimum deal ended up being one of the most productive players off the bench and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder in their last playoff game. Barnes played in all but two games this season (both due to suspension) and averaged a career-high 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds. He was one of the most consistent contributors off the bench, along with Crawford and Bledsoe.
10.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, .462 FG, .342 3FG: It was a career season for Barnes after two disappointing seasons with the Lakers. He seemed to thrive after doubters said he was finished and many teams passed up on him in the offseason when he was a free agent.
Outlook for 2013-14
Barnes is again a free agent but the chances of him being available a couple of weeks before the start of training camp for the minimum are slim to none. He’ll want a multiyear deal with a hefty raise and the Clippers are likely to give him one after letting him feel out the market. Despite his solid season, Barnes is 33 and has played for eight teams in 11 seasons. He’s not going to get a huge offer elsewhere and would like to stay in Los Angeles to be with his family. Barnes said during his exit interview that Paul has already started to recruit him to return next season.
“Chris and I have already been talking about it,” Barnes said. “We talked about it on the plane last night. He's obviously the franchise player but we also talked about what I was thinking about doing. Without giving anything away, he was doing his job (in recruiting me).”
Barnes would once again be a key in the Clippers’ second team and would likely see an even more prominent role if the Clippers end up dealing Bledsoe and/or Caron Butler in the offseason.
A: If you look at his production in relation to his salary, it’s hard to ask for much more from a guy making the minimum.
The Clippers acquired Odom in an offseason trade for Mo Williams and for much of this season, you had to think there must have been any number of trades that would have given the Clippers a better return for the former All-Star guard. There might even be some who still wonder that today.
Odom came into training camp a good 30 pounds overweight and it wasn’t until about midseason that he returned to his former playing weight. He would turn out to be a solid player for the Clippers off the bench and was one of only two players on the team who played in all 82 games.
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."
"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.
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.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 93-91 in thrilling fashion Monday night at Staples Center and took a 2-0 lead in the first-round series of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.
A quick breakdown:
How it happened: Chris Paul made an off-balance, one-handed bank shot over Tony Allen with 0.1 seconds to play as the Clippers held off a late rally by Memphis. The Grizzlies tried a desperation in-bounds play, but the shot missed.
Moments before Paul’s game winner, Marc Gasol tied the game at 91 on a wide-open dunk with 13.9 seconds to play coming out of a Memphis timeout. The Clippers immediately called timeout and set up Paul’s game winner.
L.A. led by as many as 12 early in the fourth quarter and still had an 85-76 lead with 6:50 to play. The Grizzlies, who made only two of their first eight shots in the fourth quarter, stormed back and made four shots in a row to tie the game at 89-89 with 1:37 to play.
Turning point: The Clippers began the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run that helped them open an 83-71 lead. The key sequence came when Lamar Odom blocked a Marc Gasol shot with 11 minutes remaining in the game, and then 15 seconds later Odom fed a bounce pass to Eric Bledsoe for a two-handed dunk. The crowd-raising sequence gave the Clippers an 81-71 lead and marked the first time either team had led by double digits in the game.
Player of the game: Paul had 24 points and nine assists on 9-of-17 shooting. He scored eight of his points in the final 3:43 of the game, including the game-winning shot, and was the only Clippers player to score in the final six minutes of the game.
What it means: The Clippers have a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Only 15 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a series in NBA playoff history.
What’s next: The series will reconvene Thursday in Memphis. The teams will play two games there and return to Los Angeles on April 30 for Game 5 if necessary.
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:
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.
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.
LOS ANGELES -- It was the most important regular-season game in Los Angeles Clippers franchise history.
With a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the Clippers would win their first Pacific Division title, clinch their first series sweep over the Lakers and claim the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
It also didn’t hurt that the game was at home and on national television.
For a team looking to change its image locally and around their league, the Clippers took a giant leap forward Sunday with their 109-95 win over the Lakers. It wasn't a shocking result. The Clippers have beaten the Lakers every time they have played this season and the margin of victory has been by over 13 points.
The Clippers are clearly the best team in Los Angeles this season. There are, however, no trophies for being the best team in the city. There may or may not be a banner for that honor but that's another story altogether.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Before the game, Chris Paul said he might have to be more aggressive than he usually is down the stretch and especially on Sunday against the Lakers. With Chauncey Billups out and the Clippers needing an extra scoring punch early, Paul scored seven points in the first quarter and finished with 24 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. Paul knew how important it was for the Clippers to clinch the division at home against the Lakers and wasn't going to let the opportunity slide away while he tried to facilitate and get his teammates involved.
A Tribe Called Bench
The Clippers are at their best when their best is in a groove and involved early and that was the case Sunday as Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes made their presence felt in the first half with 23 points and finished with 32 points and five rebounds. It was a solid performance by the Clippers' two most consistent bench players on a day when they get next to nothing from Lamar Odom and Eric Bledsoe, who combined for just two points. Interestingly enough, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro shortened his rotation, only playing five players off the bench and really only leaning on three in the second half.
It had been a somewhat difficult week for Blake Griffin, who took some heat for his immaturity from the media. Griffin, however, responded with one of his most complete games of the season. He had 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and essentially put the game away with a monster dunk followed by a three-pointer in the fourth quarter. Griffin said he didn't want the Clippers to hang a Pacific Division championship banner, that he had bigger goals for the team. The Clippers haven't made a decision on their division banner yet, but if they play the way they did Sunday, they could be hanging more than a division banner up at some point in the near future.
The Clippers have given 13 different players rotation-level minutes at some point in the season. That number will shrink to nine or 10 guys, at the most, in the playoffs. Tough choices will be made and egos will be bruised.
“It really depends on who’s healthy and who can go. We really haven’t had that consistently. It’s been different lineups for just health reasons,” Del Negro said at practice last week. “Hopefully we can sew that up as we move forward at the end.”
Here are a few postseason lineup tweaks the Clippers probably should make:
The closing lineup
The Clippers best lineup this season, by far, has been DeAndre Jordan at center, Blake Griffin at power forward, Matt Barnes at small forward, Jamal Crawford at shooting guard and Chris Paul at point guard.
The lineup scores 118.4 points per 100 possessions and allows just 90.2 points per 100 possessions defensively (+28.2 net rating), figures that would rank as both the NBA’s top offense and defense by a considerable margin.
Thus far, the Clippers have mainly closed games with Griffin, Barnes, Crawford, Paul and Lamar Odom, not Jordan. The lineup has done very well, scoring 111.5 points per 100 possessions and allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions (+8.4 net rating). It has been nowhere near as dominant as the lineup with Jordan in the middle, though.
Jordan’s inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, as well as his free-throw shooting woes, have made it difficult for Del Negro to fully trust Jordan with legitimate starter-level and closing-time minutes.
But the numbers say he should be out there.
“We need him big time,” Paul said of Jordan after last week’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. “I think he knows that and he needs to know that. With him in the game, he's a game-changer.”
With Jordan, the Clippers post a 57.0 rebounding percentage; replace him with Odom in that same lineup, and the figure drops to 49.8 percent. The same drop-off occurs offensively (60.4 true shooting percentage with Jordan; 54.6 percent with Odom).
Defensively, the Clippers see a significant boost in their 3-point defense with Jordan, allowing just 28.2 percent shooting on opposing 3-pointers, compared to 40.3 percent 3-point shooting with Odom.
It may run counter to Del Negro’s instincts, but Jordan should finish games.
The bench lineup
With Grant Hill constantly in and out of the lineup, and Eric Bledsoe’s recent injury, the bench has lacked the consistency and structure it had earlier in the season.
Since Jan. 1, the “Tribe Called Bench” lineup of Ronny Turiaf, Odom, Barnes, Crawford and Bledsoe has been outscored by 16.1 points per 100 possessions. But those numbers stem from a very small floor-time sample size (56 minutes).
To spark the struggling bench, Del Negro replaced Turiaf with Ryan Hollins in early February. The results have been abysmal.
Since Feb. 1, about the time Hollins took over as the bench’s center, the new lineup has been outscored by over 20 points per 100 possessions.
Neither Hollins (+0.5 points per 100 possessions) nor Turiaf (+3.8 points per 100 possessions) projects to play much in the postseason, but if one of them needs to be called off the bench, almost all signs point to Turiaf being the better choice.
The wildcards of the Clippers season have been Billups and Hill. If healthy, both will play vital roles in a playoff run. If not, the Clippers will start Willie Green and be stretched thin with Barnes and Butler as their only wing players with size.
The small ball bench lineup with Hill as a big man instead of Turiaf or Hollins has only played 42 minutes, but has been dominated on the glass (47.1 rebound percentage), struggled offensively (87.7 offensive rating) and been outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions. Designed around versatility and speed, the lineup might fare well against a team like the Denver Nuggets.
Against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Clippers briefly went with a lineup of Griffin, Barnes, Butler, Crawford and Paul down the stretch. The Clippers’ defense struggled, and in 32 minutes overall, the lineup has been disastrous (-25.1 net rating). Replace Crawford with Jordan, though, and the results are much better (+23.5 net rating), indicating the duo of Barnes and Butler can coexist on the wings.
An intriguing lineup of Jordan, Griffin, Barnes, Bledsoe, and Paul has only played 21 minutes and been outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions, but has shot efficiently and dominated the boards (62.1 rebounding percentage). The lineup oozes elite defensive potential and off-ball movement, and could have value against a long, athletic team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A realistic possibility, depending on the situation, is for Del Negro to finish with Odom, Griffin, Barnes, Billups and Paul. Crawford is the Clippers’ second-best shot creator behind Paul, but Billups has a reputation for making big shots and would alleviate pressure on Paul with his sound decision-making, shooting and court vision. This lineup has only played seven minutes, so it’s impossible to glean anything from the data, but it’s the type of veteran-savvy lineup coaches prefer.
For most of the season, the Clippers’ starters and bench players have played almost entirely separately.
Four of L.A.’s nine lineups that have played at least 100 minutes are entirely compromised of either starting players or bench players. Two other lineups feature either four starters and one bench player or four bench players and one starter.
Therefore, there will be a lot of inexperienced lineups in the postseason, as lineups will be mashed and new player combinations will be tested in the name of defeating the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Luckily, Paul, Griffin and Crawford will be on the floor at almost all times, mitigating any potential lulls.
Deciding who should play, who shouldn’t and more importantly when they should play is a difficult and delicate task.
The Clippers’ best chance of playing into June hinges on the coaching staff’s ability to strike the right balance between managing egos and deploying the right combinations, that will be their playing in June.
Stats from nba.com/stats
Players and coaches watched Monday night from their hotel as the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies lost, giving the Clippers sole possession of the No. 3 seed by mere percentage points. A win Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks would strengthen that position while a loss would push them back down to the No. 4 seed.
"Everyone is vying for position," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We're no different."
The Clippers' 109-102 overtime loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday night did indeed knock the Clippers back down to the No. 4 seed and just a half game up on Memphis for home court in a possible first-round playoff rematch. The Clippers looked as if they had sealed the win thanks to the late-game heroics of Chris Paul, but not even his best efforts could help the Clippers in overtime.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul was a game-time decision Tuesday night because of swelling in his left knee but started the game and was more aggressive early than he usually is. He played all 12 minutes in the first quarter and scored 10 points and dished out two assists. Before the game, Del Negro said if Paul did play he would monitor his minutes closely, but Paul ended up playing 39 minutes, finishing with 33 points, five assists and five rebounds. Time after time in the fourth quarter and overtime, Paul put the Clippers on his back and scored a key bucket or nabbed a key steal. Paul had 12 points and one steal in the fourth quarter and overtime, was the difference maker down the stretch and looked as if he had led the Clippers to a win after his six-footer gave them a 97-95 lead with five seconds left. O.J. Mayo, however, tied the score and the Mavericks would take care of business in overtime. The only downside to Paul's line was his seven turnovers.
Lamar Odom's first game back in Dallas after he and the Mavericks mutually decided to part ways last season went about as expected. The sold-out crowd at American Airlines Center booed Odom every time he touched the ball or was shown on the big screen. In fact, Odom was often shown on the big screen, even if he wasn't in the game, to elicit a response from the crowd. Odom had a decent game by his standards, finishing with six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes, which would have easily passed for one of his better games in Dallas during his forgettable 50-game stint with the Mavericks.
In addition to Odom, the Clippers' bench got contributions from Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, who combined for 20 points and six assists. Crawford scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter and was heated on the court and in the huddle late in the game as he pleaded with officials for a foul call, eventually getting hit with a technical, one of two the Clippers had in the second half (the other going to Blake Griffin). The Clippers also had one of their better games of the season defending the 3-pointer as the Mavericks shot just 26.1 percent, hitting 6-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. Not that any of that helped in the end as the Clippers lost the first game of their four-game trip.
LOS ANGELES -- Vinny Del Negro laughed when he was asked before the game how his Los Angeles Clippers would play against a New York Knicks team playing without Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
“Hopefully well,” he deadpanned.
This was a game the Clippers couldn't afford to lose with 16 left in the season and their lead on the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets down to just a half-game.
The problem is the Clippers didn’t play like that through the first half, allowing the Knicks to hang around. The Clippers even fell behind by eight points. The Clippers got it together in the second half and beat the Knicks 93-80 to increase their lead over the Grizzlies and Nuggets to a full game.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Clippers go as Chris Paul goes, and on Sunday, both sides of that equation were on display. Paul didn’t come out as aggressively as Del Negro would have hoped in the first half. The Clippers started the game lackadaisically, and Paul was never able to shake his team out of its funk. That all changed in the second half as the Clippers opened up a 19-point lead on the Knicks. Paul had seven points and four assists in the third quarter alone and finished with 20 points and eight assists for the game. It was far from his best game of the season, but it was exactly what the Clippers needed from him.
That’s their DJ
Del Negro is never quite sure what he’s going to get from DeAndre Jordan. Some nights, he’s a defensive force; other nights he looks lost on defensive assignments. Some nights, he can put up a double-double without breaking a sweat; other nights, he can be a complete nonfactor. The Clippers got a little bit of both on Sunday as Jordan had eight points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes. All of his points and all but three of his rebounds, however, came in the first half. Jordan, as has been the case much of this season, didn’t even see the floor in the fourth quarter. Jordan often shows flashes of the player he can be, as he did in the first half, but far too often the Clippers get the player they saw in the second half, which forces them to rely on bench players like Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins to pick up the slack.
This is the one area the Clippers have talked about improving since November, and it’s the one area where they haven’t improved in one bit since that time. The Clippers came into the game knowing the Knicks love shooting 3-pointers, and they still allowed them to hit 46.2 percent of their attempts (12 of 26) with many going completely uncontested. The Knicks were actually shooting over 50 percent midway through the fourth quarter as they were able to cut the Clippers’ lead down to 10. If the Clippers had been able to defend the perimeter even decently, they would have been able to rest their starters the entire fourth quarter. As it was, the Knicks were able to get back into the game and force Del Negro to put Paul and Blake Griffin back into the game.
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.
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.
It’s no secret that the second night of a back-to-back in Denver is one of the toughest games on any team’s schedule. Not just because of the quick turnaround in travel and getting acclimated to the altitude, but the Pepsi Center has always been one of the toughest road arenas in the league. This season, the Denver Nuggets are 27-3 at home, tied for the best home mark in the NBA.
This was the kind of game that the Los Angeles Clippers were expected to lose but really needed to win in order to avoid a possible matchup with Denver in the postseason. After the Nuggets beat the Clippers 107-92 on Thursday night, the Nuggets not only took the season series and tiebreaker, but also climbed to just 2 ½ games behind the Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the West.
There are just 18 games left to play this season, and the goal for the Clippers now is to hang on to the No. 3 seed with the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver hot on their heels. A first-round series with the Utah Jazz or Houston Rockets is one thing, but if the Clippers have to face Denver or Memphis (again) in the first round in a possible 4-5 matchup, all the talk of how the Clippers match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs might be a moot point.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Vinny Del Negro has constantly asked Chris Paul to be more aggressive early in games. He wants Paul to set the tone for the game offensively and then let the game come to him rather than vice versa. Paul, however, would rather get his teammates involved in the game early and come on late. Most of the time Paul’s strategy works fine, but against Denver, the Clippers really needed Paul to be more of a factor early in the game. Paul only had two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half. The problem for the Clippers is if Paul starts a game slow, he usually finishes strong, but Paul had just five points on 2-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets pulled away late and went up by 18 points.
One of the biggest problems for the Clippers this season has been their 3-point defense, or lack thereof. In every big game they have lost, one of the constants has been the opposition getting wide-open looks from beyond the arc. That was the case once again in Denver, as the Nuggets hit 11-of-23 3-pointers. Before the game, George Karl said one of his goals was to hit as many 3-pointers as the Clippers. Well, the Clippers hit just 7-of-22 from beyond the arc. The Nuggets are not even a particularly good 3-point shooting team, ranking 26th in 3-point field goal percentage. But when facing the Clippers this season, even bad 3-point shooting teams look good. In their past seven losses, the Clippers' opponents are shooting close to 50 percent from downtown.
“Our 3-point defense has been terrible,” Paul told reporters after the game. “All their 3s were wide open. It’s not a great 3-point shooting team, but tonight they were lights out.”
No Crawford, slight problem
One night after Jamal Crawford made one of the best lob passes of the season to Blake Griffin, Crawford sat out Thursday’s game with a sore left ankle. Crawford injured the ankle in the second quarter of the Clippers’ game Wednesday against Milwaukee and played through it. Without Crawford, Matt Barnes stepped his game up and finished with 19 points. Lamar Odom added eight points and 10 rebounds while Eric Bledsoe had five points, four rebounds and two assists. As well as the bench played in Crawford's absence, they couldn't make up for the Clippers' starters, who were a combined -85 while the Nuggets' starters were a combined +82.