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Thursday, November 1, 2012
In opener, Clippers' recipe looks good

By J.A. Adande

LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin was a latecomer to “Breaking Bad” and has been playing catch-up for a couple of years now. He still has seen enough to know the show gets better every season, as the relationship between Walt and Jesse grows more complicated, and new characters such as Tuco and Gus join the mix.

After only one episode of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2012-13 campaign, it’s evident this season will be better, too. It’s the second go-round for four-fifths of the starting unit, a unit that was in camp from the first day the team convened, and there’s a trust that doesn’t exist with, say, their purple-and-gold neighbors.

“Last year we started with one team and pretty much ended up with almost a whole new team,” Griffin said. “The familiarity and having these guys back … even though we have seven new guys or whatever it is, I think we have that core group of guys that kind of can step in and know what to do right away.”

There’s belief that the next guy can get it done … and if he doesn’t, then the next one will. The team that was second-best in the league at protecting the ball last season coughed it up 22 times Wednesday night. Griffin and Chris Paul -- the faces of the franchise, the two guys chosen to address the fans on opening night -- scored only 23 points between them. And the Clippers still beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-92, in the continuation of what has become a testy rivalry.

“I love it,” Paul said. “But, I mean, how many nights are you going to hold Blake to [11] and me to 12? I told them in the locker room after the game, it’s fun to be a part of this, to have guys come off the bench and score effortlessly. [Jamal Crawford] had 29. [Eric Bledsoe] was unbelievable. And these are our so-called backups.”

And they didn’t even have the full complement of backups. The Clippers could have used Grant Hill (injured) and Matt Barnes (suspended) on Rudy Gay, who worked the Clippers inside to the tune of 25 points.

But Crawford’s offensive explosion, Bledsoe’s continued excellence, Ronny Turiaf’s energy and even a hint of Lamar Odom’s old versatile ways pushed the Clippers past a relentless Grizzlies squad. This was more of a Memphis-style game, with under-the-basket knockdowns outnumbering above-the-rim throwdowns. It still had everything you could want in a basketball game, in addition to some action you’d normally find in a football game or pro wrestling match.

The lead changed hands seven times, yet the Clippers’ faith never wavered. They’ve been through plenty before, including winning a Game 7 on the road against these Grizzlies. On Wednesday, the Clippers all arrived wearing black suits and ties in a unified "men in black" Halloween costume.

“Man, I’ve never been on a team like this before,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “We have a mixed group of guys -- some vets, some super-vets, some young guys. The team camaraderie is crazy. We’ve only been together for two months, but it seems like we’ve been together for five years.”

That’s the thing. If it’s like this now, what will happen in Season 5? Don’t answer that. You don’t want to spoil it for Griffin.