Los Angeles Clippers: Ryan Hollins
Coming off their most successful season in team history, the Clippers re-signed Chris Paul for the next five years, hired Doc Rivers as their coach, acquired two sharpshooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick and solidified their bench by signing Darren Collison and re-signing Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins.
On paper, they look like a championship contender and Las Vegas sports books agree, tabbing only the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder with better odds to win the title next season.
But is everything really all great with the Clippers? We’ll try to find out by examining five pressing questions for the Clippers before they start training camp in a couple of months.
1. How much of an impact will Rivers and his coaching staff really have on the Clippers?
Rivers is a massive upgrade over Vinny Del Negro in the coaching department, and his assistants, whom he hired and brought over from the Boston Celtics (Alvin Gentry, Kevin Eastman, Armond Hill, Tyronn Lue and J.P. Clark) are an upgrade as well. It’s hard to say how much of an impact their presence will have on a team that won 56 games and the Pacific Division title last year, but it’s certainly not a stretch to think the Clippers can win 60 games and claim the top seed in the West next season.
Rivers, however, doesn’t just want the Clippers to have regular-season success. They've had that already. He wants them to be in a position to make a run at a championship when the playoffs roll around. He has pointed to the 2010 Celtics, who struggled to win 50 games, finished fourth in the East and nearly beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He wants the Clippers to advance to at least their first ever conference finals in his first season.
What Rivers has on his side is a recent championship ring as a head coach and the authority as the senior vice president of basketball operations to get every player on the team to listen and buy into his message. It’s something Del Negro, in a lame-duck position as a coach the past two seasons, never had, and there's no doubt it hurt the team when the Clippers could have used a more assertive leader.
2. The Clippers wanted to trade DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett before the league blocked the deal. How will Jordan respond and can the Clippers win with him as the starting center?
Rivers made a point to reach out to Jordan when he was hired as the coach, and it looks like Jordan will be the Clippers’ starting center going into this season. It’s not terrible news for a team on the rise to have an athletic 24-year-old center who has yet to scratch his potential returning to the team, but if the Clippers are to be serious contenders this season, Jordan will have to start scratching that potential sooner rather than later.
Jordan shot a dreadful 38 percent from the free throw line last season, and that mark didn’t improve at all during the postseason when he was forced to sit at the end of close games. Jordan will never be a great free throw shooter, but the Clippers will need him to get above 50 percent if they are to depend on him come playoff time.
3. What is the Clippers' biggest weakness right now?
The Clippers’ frontcourt depth at the moment is nonexistent. A quick look at their two-deep shows that Griffin doesn’t even have a backup at power forward and Hollins is Jordan’s only backup at center, and we just established how dependable Jordan, who averaged 24 minutes per game last season, can be.
The Clippers are in the market to sign a couple of big men at the moment to back up Griffin and Jordan, but they are over the salary cap and can only offer players veteran's minimum deals. Maybe they’ll come across a steal before training camp like Matt Barnes, but that doesn’t happen too often.
There’s a chance the Clippers could re-sign Lamar Odom to back up the four and five spots and maybe add Antawn Jamison as well. That would at least give them some flexibility and scoring punch in the frontcourt that they don’t have at the moment.
4. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin signed five-year extensions over the past two summers, but can we expect them to be teammates over the course of their deals?
It used to be unthinkable for one, let alone two franchise players to commit five years of their prime to the Clippers, but that’s exactly what Paul and Griffin have done, and unless the Clippers royally mess things up (I’ll spare you a played-out Clippers joke here), Paul and Griffin should be the cornerstones of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Of course, there was talk, albeit fleeting, about Griffin being traded for Dwight Howard this offseason, but that didn’t last long. Could Griffin’s name come up again if the Clippers don’t win this season? It’s possible but highly unlikely, according to a team source, who said Clippers owner Donald Sterling would never trade Griffin and credits him for beginning the team’s turnaround.
There had been whispers that Griffin and Paul weren’t as close as advertised last season, but both players knocked down those rumors. Griffin recently flew to Las Vegas with Paul to watch the Clippers in the NBA Summer League and Paul said he and Griffin talk and text about the team “all day, every day.”
5. Are the Clippers a championship team as currently constructed?
Probably not. They’re good enough to win the Pacific Division again and get to the Western Conference finals for the first time, but they’ll have to add another piece if they hope to get past Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the West and certainly if they want to get past Miami in the NBA Finals. The Clippers struggled with all three teams last season, going 0-6 against them after Nov. 19. The Clippers have made some improvements, but time will tell if they have improved enough to get over that hump and become one of the top three teams in the NBA.
Paul and Redick have had their fair share of battles, in college when Paul was at Wake Forrest and Redick was at Duke, and during the course of their NBA careers, and now they will be starting in the same backcourt with the Clippers.
Paul never thought he’d see the day when they both were on the same team and starting in the backcourt but was excited to finally be paired up with his old nemesis.
“I’m really excited to play with him,” Paul said. “It’s crazy how life works and you grow as a person. In college? Me and J.J.? Oh no, you would have never seen us sitting next to each other. When I saw that J.J. signed here I was overjoyed. I told my wife that I’m so happy we’re on the same team and I don’t have to run and around and chase him because he hit us up for 39 one time at Cameron Indoor. I’m just overly excited and I almost feel like rookie again because we could start and build something.”
When Doc Rivers joined the Clippers as the team’s head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations, he was looking for guys to fit his system. He was looking for outside shooters who were good system defenders and void of any ego. He targeted Redick and Jared Dudley and ended up getting both in a three-team deal for Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler.
“They’re great fits,” Rivers said. “They add shooting number one. They get who they are, all of them. They’re over themselves, which is so important in our league when you have guys who understand who they are and they usually stay in their lane. They’re over themselves and they have really gotten past that stage in their careers. They’re just trying to win and doing whatever it takes. That’s important for teams. When you can add guys like that to a talented group, it’s really important.”
Rivers met with Reddick and immediately sold him on what the Clippers were building and how he could fit in. He was immediately sold and Tuesday night signed a four-year, $27 million contract.
“It was just a perfect fit,” Redick said. “Doc’s thing is all about putting yourself below the team, putting the team first and being about winning and those are the things that I’m about. It’s team first and building towards a championship.”
“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."
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 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 took the Los Angeles Clippers four tries but on Wednesday after losing their previous three games, they won their 50th game of the season and moved within one win, or a Golden State Warriors loss, of winning the Pacific Division.
Never before in team history had the Clippers won 50 games in a season or won the division, and the significance of that wasn't lost on Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro before the game when he said accomplishing both this week would be "special."
After losing four of their last five games, the lowly Phoenix Suns were the perfect remedy to what had been ailing the Clippers. The Clippers destroyed the Suns, 126-101, in a game that was never close after halftime as the Clippers dominated in every way imaginable.
Here are three takeaways:
That's their DJ
DeAndre Jordan responded to one of the worst games of his career by having one of the best games of the season, putting up 20 points and 12 rebounds in just 30 minutes. Jordan, who was 0-for-2 for no points and 5 rebounds in the Clippers' loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday, was a force throughout Wednesday's game, hitting 10 of 15 shots and helping the Clippers jump out to a 28-point lead in the second half. This is the kind of game the Clippers would love see from Jordan heading into the playoffs. He may never be a consistent 20-10 player, but he has the talent and ability to be that kind of player, which is why the Clippers are paying him $43 million over four years.
When the Clippers were at their best earlier in the season, their high-flying second unit was powered by the backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford. Injuries to both players over the second half of the season hurt their progress, but on Wednesday both players reverted to their old ways as Crawford had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with four assists and Bledsoe had 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting with seven assists. Other bench players stepped up as well including Ryan Hollins, who had seven points before getting ejected after a minor altercation with Goran Dragic in the third quarter. He received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd and his teammates on his way back to the locker room.
No one has been put in a more awkward position this season than Willie Green, who was brought in to be a backup point guard and hold Chauncey Billups' spot as the starting shooting guard. A variety of injuries and setbacks to Billups has made him available to start only 20 games. Green has started the other 56 games. When Billups returns, Green quietly goes back to the end of the bench and doesn't play. It's a thankless position, but Green's play this season is a big reason why the Clippers have won 50 games. On Wednesday, Green scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 19 minutes. As Del Negro said about Green, "You never have to worry about Willie. He's the first one in and the last one out. Willie's a pro."
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
"Lawler's Law!" Collins said, referring to Lawler's decree that the first team to score 100 points wins.
"Last time it was 100 after three quarters," Collins continued. "But who remembers that?"
The Clippers didn't hit Lawler's Law until late in the fourth quarter, beating the Sixers on Wednesday night, 101-72. It was a win the Clippers desperately needed after losing three of their last five games.
With just 13 games left in the regular season, the Clippers are mere percentage points from being the No. 3 seed in the West or starting the first round of the playoffs on the road at either Memphis or Denver.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Paul powers through
Chris Paul doesn't like to talk about injuries, especially this time of year, but there was no hiding the kinesiology tape that was around his left shoulder and the ice pack taped to the shoulder before the game. In fact, it was so painful Paul could hardly put his shirt and jersey on before the game on his own without wincing in pain. Paul, however, played Wednesday night and finished with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds in just 31 minutes. It was a strong performance at a time when the Clippers desperately needed it. Paul responded well to a rough night in Sacramento on Tuesday where he hit only 2-of-10 shots and committed seven turnovers. On Wednesday he was 8-for-10 with four turnovers.
Bench is back
After being outscored the previous three games, the Clippers' bench responded Wednesday by outscoring the 76ers' bench 42-25. Despite the absence of Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf and Grant Hill, the Clippers got contributions from six players, including Maalik Wayns and DaJuan Summers, two players who recently signed 10-day contracts. Jamal Crawford scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, and Ryan Hollins had a solid night with 10 points and six rebounds.
Yes, playing the 76ers can do wonders for a lot of teams, but after getting torched from the perimeter recently, the Clippers could at least look at the stat sheet and smile after Wednesday night's win. The Sixers only scored 72 points, which is a season low for a Clippers opponent this season. The Sixers also shot just 36.7 percent from the field. Even more impressive for the Clippers is that they held the Sixers to just 30 percent from 3-point range (3-for-20) after letting teams hit nearly 50 percent recently. The Clippers need to have similar defensive efforts against the top teams in the league, and they can only hope to parlay Wednesday's win into something more. Next week, the Clippers go on the road for a four-game trip that could go a long way in deciding where they finish in the Western Conference standings.
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.
The Los Angeles Clippers' ever-growing injury list now included Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, and Odom was asked not only to be a starter but a captain who would greet the officials before the game.
"We needed collective energy tonight," Odom said. "In order to win this game, we needed to focus on our unity. That's what families do during times of adversity."
The Clippers certainly played like a unit and with more energy than they have at any other point during their current eight-games-in-14-days trip. Without three-fifths of their starting lineup and their sixth man, the Clippers beat the Orlando Magic, 86-76, Wednesday and snapped a three-game losing streak.
Odom has becomes somewhat of a sage in the Clippers' locker room this season. After being vilified during his short stint in Dallas last season, Odom has become someone that the younger players turn to for advice on what it takes to win, how to adapt to different roles on a team, dealing with fame off the court and just about anything else.
Normally, Odom takes on this leadership role in the background and in the locker room and during practices with little fanfare as he blends in with the second unit, but his impact was put more on display Wednesday as he had to put a bigger imprint on the game and on the team with so many players out.
"That was all Lamar tonight," said DeAndre Jordan, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. "He kept everybody's head into it and he kept us focused and that really helped us. Lamar kept everybody tight tonight. Even when we were down he kept us right. He's an older guy and he gives me a lot of things to learn from. You have to listen to a guy like that who has won two rings. On the teams he was on they overcame a lot of things to win so he knows what he's talking about. We're lucky to have a guy like that to learn from on this team."
When Odom was on the Los Angeles Lakers, helping them go to three straight NBA Finals and winning back-to-back championships, he had a similar leadership role in the locker room. The entire team would always circle around him pregame as Odom would yell, "We're the best team in the NBA!" Odom occasionally does the same thing with the Clippers but usually allows Paul, Billups and Griffin to do the talking on the court as he does the talking behind the scenes.
Odom was all over the court Wednesday. He played more than 27 minutes and had 8 points, 6 steals, 4 assists and 5 rebounds. The six steals for Odom was a career high and shows how far he has come in his conditioning. He has lost more than 25 pounds since the start of training camp, is back to his usual playing weight and is beginning to play like his old self again.
PG: Chris Paul
Season averages (39 GP): 16.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 9.7 APG, 2.6 SPG, 26.1 PER
Don’t let his numbers fool you: Paul is playing at an MVP-caliber level. Besides LeBron James and Kevin Durant, no player has a better statistical résumé. Paul is third in PER and second in win shares per 48 minutes, and he has guided the Clippers to a top-five rating on offense and defense. The only qualms would be that he has struggled with his 3-point shot (33.3 percent) and is sometimes too passive early in games, but it’s tough to chide one of the three best players in basketball.
SG: Willie Green
Season averages (40 GP): 6.5 PPG, 39.6 3PT%, 11.4 PER
Green’s role has fluctuated throughout the season, but his consistency has not. He has stayed within his offensive limitations, serving as a reliable spot-up 3-point shooter. His defense has been poor -- opposing shooting guards register a 58.2 eFG% and 16.9 PER against him -- but that’s somewhat negated by his playing only 18.2 minutes per game. When Chauncey Billups returns, Green will go back to the bench and play limited minutes.
SF: Caron Butler
Season averages (41 GP): 9.7 PPG, 38.6 3PT%, 11.7 PER
After serving as a key contributor last season, Butler has become a complementary player on a deep roster. That’s not to say he hasn’t been effective -- he’s transformed his game and has become the Clippers’ much-needed floor spacer (40.7 percent on spot-up 3-pointers), as evidenced by his 33-point and 29-point performances this season. He’s lost a few steps defensively (340th in defensive points per play), which has allowed Matt Barnes to soak up a lot of Butler's minutes.
PF: Blake Griffin
Season averages (43 GP): 18.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 22.8 PER
All the offseason talk was about Griffin’s improved jump shot, and it has improved, but his passing skills are rarely discussed. Among power forwards, he’s third in assists per game, 10th in assist rate, and third in assists leading to 3-pointers (the most valuable assist). Most importantly, he has improved tremendously on defense, allowing the 18th-fewest points per play. Add in his new post game, and Griffin has become a near-complete player.
C: DeAndre Jordan
Season averages (43 GP): 8.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 59.6 FG%, 16.6 PER
While Jordan has become more efficient offensively (career-high 13.0 points per 36 minutes), his free throw shooting (42.0 percent) and rebounding (16.6 rebounding percentage) have regressed and limited his playing time. The threat of him scoring, especially at the rim (fifth in dunks), is valuable and gives Paul and Griffin proper space to operate. Coach Vinny Del Negro clearly favors Odom in crunch time, though, which is a disconcerting sign for Jordan’s playoff role.
G: Jamal Crawford
Season averages (41 GP): 16.6 PPG, 2.4 APG, 88.6 FT%, 16.7 PER
Crawford was scorching hot to start the season, averaging 20.7 points through the first nine games. He has cooled off since then but remains the go-to option on a second unit that lacks shot creators. If not for Barnes’ versatility, Crawford would be the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s established himself as the third option in crunch time and, more importantly, has been a willing passer and off-ball player (career-high 54 percent of shots assisted on).
G: Eric Bledsoe
Season averages (43 GP): 8.7 PPG, 1.5 SPG, 38.9 3PT%, 19.2 PER
The bench’s energizer bunny has had an up-and-down season, which isn’t unusual for a third-year point guard. Still, there’s no denying Bledsoe’s potential as a starter and future All Star. He’s displayed a new sense of pace and control (career-low turnover percentage) that, coupled with his stout defensive abilities (2.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes), has GMs drooling to acquire him. His block of Dwyane Wade remains the top Clippers highlight this season.
F/G: Matt Barnes
Season averages (42 GP): 11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 17.7 PER
The surprise player of the Clippers’ season has done everything they expected Grant Hill to do and more. Barnes is shooting at a career-high level (35.7 percent on 3-pointers), defends the opponent’s top scorer each night, and is as active off the ball as any player in the league. There’s no better bargain in the NBA than his minimum-salary contract. Barnes’ perimeter defense may be the greatest factor in determining how far L.A. advances in the postseason.
F/C: Lamar Odom
Season averages (43 GP): 3.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 10.5 PER
At the beginning of the season, we weren’t sure whether Odom could run up and down the court for 10 minutes, let alone produce. Fast-forward three months, and he’s become the player the Clippers envisioned over the offseason. His rebounding rate (10th defensively, 18th overall) is outstanding, and there’s never been any doubt that Odom is among the game’s best passing big men. Moving forward, he needs to shoot better (38.1 FG%) to justify an uptick in minutes.
F: Grant Hill:
Season averages (6 GP): 4.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 9.6 PER
His Clippers debut took a lot longer than expected, but it appears he was worth the wait. Though his jumper has been rusty (13 percent from 16-23 feet), he’s finished around the rim efficiently (75 percent) and moved well off the ball. The Clippers’ new bench unit features Hill at power forward, yet he’s defended everyone from Russell Westbrook to Emeka Okafor. His defensive versatility allows the Clippers to switch any screen under the sun.
F/C: Ronny Turiaf
Season averages (41 GP): 2.2 PPG, 0.7 BPG, 56.1 FG%, 10.5 PER
Known for his infectious attitude, Turiaf does more than simply cheer from the bench (team-high 92.9 defensive rating). Along with Odom, Turiaf has manned the backline of the bench’s stellar defense and has protected the rim in ways L.A. sorely lacked last season (2.0 blocks per 36 minutes). With Hill back, it’s likely Turiaf will lose his rotation spot, but he’s nice insurance if Jordan or Griffin gets into foul trouble.
C: Ryan Hollins
Season averages (30 GP): 2.4 PPG, 0.5 BPG, 59.5 FG%, 9.1 PER
Hollins is the only healthy player consistently racking up DNP-CDs, which is the downside of having such a deep roster. Like Turiaf, though, Hollins was signed as an insurance policy, not as a rotation player. In limited minutes, Hollins has done what he always does -- score at the rim, block shots (2.0 per 36 minutes), barely rebound (12.1 rebound percentage) and foul a lot (career-high 8.5 per 36 minutes).
G: Chauncey Billups
Season averages (3 GP): 7.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 12.5 PER
The Clippers are such a deep team that most people forget Billups has missed all but three games. Though there is only a small sample size to go on, the results are encouraging: The Clippers are a much better with Billups on the floor (+16.9 net rating). When he eventually suits up, L.A. can expect an increase in 3-point shooting and sound decision-making (9.6 turnovers per-48 minutes) as well as another clutch scorer to alleviate the pressure on Paul.
F: Trey Thompkins:
Season averages (0 GP): N/A
Thompkins didn’t play much last season, and with a slew of big men already ahead of him on the depth chart and no set timetable for his return, it appears that he won't see any floor time this season either.
Stats used from ESPN.com, NBA.com, MySynergySports.com and 82games.com.
LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom is no scientist, but he knows a thing or two about chemistry.
He was on a couple of championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, whose players got along on and off the court, and he was a big reason for that.
Before games, the Lakers would lock arms with a bouncing Odom as he shouted, "We're the best team in the NBA!" while his teammates bounced in unison with him.
It's something Odom has carried over to a Los Angeles Clippers team that is trying to create its own traditions and its own legacy. Sometimes Odom will shout, "It's just us!" in the circle. Other nights it will be just the sound of the crowd as they jump up and down around Odom.
As Odom sat in front of his locker Wednesday night, he scoffed at the idea that chemistry doesn't matter as some on the Lakers have said this week.
"It's a team sport," Odom said. "If we were playing a poker game and we don't like each other, then you've seen those movies. But if everyone gets along, it's s---- and giggles. In this locker room we have fun, it's s---- and giggles and cake."
Odom wasn't joking. After the Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 99-93 for their league-best 13th straight win at home that pushed their record to a league-best 28-8, Ronny Turiaf was handing out chocolate cupcakes from a plastic Tupperware tray he had in his locker.
"Only if they're gluten-free," said Chris Paul, taking a quick look at the cupcakes.
"They're gluten-free, bro," Turiaf said, in his best surfer accent.
As Paul got dressed, his 3-year-old son, Chris II, and Matt Barnes' 4-year-old twins, Carter and Isaiah, were clinging to rolled up T-shirts and slam dunking them through the arms of players making a basket. First it was Odom, then Turiaf, and then Grant Hill.
"It matters," Paul said when asked about chemistry. "It matters a lot when you really, truly care about somebody. You'll dive on the floor for them. You'll run through that screen for them. You really genuinely care how they feel. It just means a little bit more. When you win, you're genuinely happy. You'll go out to eat with your teammates after the game. You want to win for each other and not just for yourself."
The old saying is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Team chemistry often works that way as well. Look at the Clippers' bench when Turiaf gets a big rebound or taps in a shot. You would have thought Blake Griffin had just dunked over a car. The entire bench is jumping up and down as Turiaf laughs and twirls his finger in the air.
People can’t really nickname themselves. Well, at least not if they want to be taken seriously anyway. And getting a nickname to stick and catch on isn’t always easy, either.
You kind of need the stars to align just right and everyone to be on the same page for it to hit and it finally has for the Los Angeles Clippers’ second unit, which from this point forth will simply be known as “A Tribe Called Bench.”
I first asked Jamal Crawford, an early favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award, last month if he had a preference for a nickname for the Clippers' second unit that was slowly beginning to dominate games. He didn't at that time, but shortly afterward other writers asked fans and followers on Twitter what they thought the bench should be called.
We all had our own lame ideas. I threw out “Lob Deep,” but was immediately shot down. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register threw out “Mob Deep,” but he found out the New York Knicks had used that nickname last year. Woike then got a tweet from a San Francisco Bay Area follower with the handle @squidwai and “A Tribe Called Bench” was born.
Over the past three games, the Clippers have started to play highlights of the second unit to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” and the #ATribeCalledBench hashtag has started trending on Twitter in Los Angeles during Clippers games.
It’s no surprise that the nickname has caught on over the past three games. During that stretch no Clippers starter has seen the court in the fourth quarter (except for Caron Butler being forced to play the final 1:36 during Sunday's 102-83 win over the Toronto Raptors after Matt Barnes was ejected). In fact, in four of the past five games, the Clippers haven’t needed to turn to their starters in the final stanza once.
“Our starters do a great job of wearing teams out, and then we try to bring in the knockout blow,” Crawford said. “That’s why this team was built this way. Seeing Chris [Paul], Blake [Griffin], DeAndre [Jordan], Caron and Chauncey [Billups] play heavy minutes and getting beat up last season, by the time the playoffs were here everybody was either injured or tired.
“Now with our depth, those guys will be fresh the whole way. When they’re fresh, we’ll be a much better team.”
Crawford wasn’t with the Clippers last season, but when Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was trying to recruit Crawford in the offseason he mentioned the injuries Paul, Griffin and Butler suffered during the playoffs and the season-ending injury Billups had during the season. The Clippers needed to totally revamp their bench this season and it started with Crawford. It continued with the acquisition of Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins, Willie Green and Grant Hill to go along with a healthy Eric Bledsoe, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.
“I think you get into a little bit of a rotation chemistry,” Del Negro said. “I think the unit knows the play sets they usually run and the rotations and the chemistry builds. We haven’t been together that long. It seems like it, but it’s a new unit. We have seven new players and the guys are in and out of the lineup with injuries and things. Every team battles it, but I think the chemistry with the second unit hopefully will continue to get better.”
The Clippers’ depth will only get better when Billups and Hill return from their injuries and Odom returns to his old playing weight. Odom has already lost 12 pounds since the start of the season and is hoping to lose an additional 8 to 10 pounds as he is finally beginning to play like his old self again.
At full strength, the Clippers are one of the few teams in the league that can roll out a completely different lineup of five players, not only fully capable of sustaining a lead but building on it and closing games out.
In the past three games, the Clippers’ second unit has outscored their opponents by 38 points in the fourth quarter. They’re holding a 22-5 advantage in assists and have also grabbed 13 steals during that time. The biggest key for the Clippers’ success with the second unit has been their defense. They held Toronto to just 15 percent shooting and 10 points in the final period on Sunday.
“We know what our ultimate goal is,” Barnes said. “We have a very talented team and guys have to make sacrifices ... whether that’s playing time, shots or whatever it may be. Everyone has bought in and the more time we have together, the better we jell and the better we play. It’s important when you like your teammates, and we all get along on and off the court. I think that carries onto the court and I think that’s big for us.
“We’re just having fun out there,” he said. “We know we have something special here.”
As Barnes spoke about the closeness of the Clippers, his twin sons, Carter and Isaiah, gave Jordan a picture they drew of him. The boys then gathered around Griffin along with Paul’s son, Chris Jr., as Griffin regaled them with stories. Some teams talk about being close, but the Clippers’ locker room looks like a living room during the holidays.
“It’s fun, but we still need to work on everything,” Crawford said. “It’s still early, it’s only December. We’re trying to prepare to play for June. We have to get everybody healthy, continue to work on our concepts and continue to feed off each other.”
The question for the Clippers’ bench as they embark on a four-game road trip is if they’re happy with their new nickname.
“I’m cool with whatever you guys come up with,” Crawford said. “We’re winning, so I’m fine with it.”