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LOS ANGELES -- There are going to be a lot of stories about how things are different for the Los Angeles Clippers this season with Doc Rivers as the head coach, but let's start with this one.
DeAndre Jordan did not play a minute in the fourth quarter of the Clippers' 103-99 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at Staples Center and not a single solitary soul asked him about it afterward.
If you were around the past couple of seasons, the Clippers' lack of trust in their young center in crunch time was a major storyline. Each time Jordan would be benched in favor of a more savvy, trustworthy veteran who stood a better chance of making a couple free throws in the fourth quarter, it was an issue.
Over time it became a problem, and by the end of the season the only solution seemed to be to ship Jordan off to another team where he could have a fresh start.
But Wednesday night, when the same thing happened that used to leave Jordan feeling raw and vulnerable, nobody even batted an eyelash. Rivers had told the team before the game that he wanted to give the second unit and other role players like Lou Amundson, Ryan Hollins and Antawn Jamison some playing time in this penultimate preseason game, and he stuck to that plan.
|Blake Griffin says the arrival of Doc Rivers as coach is helping players with their confidence because of the way Rivers has earned their trust and respect.|
It was small thing, but it spoke volumes about the way Rivers has already earned the trust and respect of his new team by building and instilling enough confidence in young players like Jordan and fourth-year player Blake Griffin.
He can sit both of them for the entire fourth quarter and neither says a word, because they already know exactly how Rivers feels about them.
"Actions speak louder than words. You can say this or that, but then you get out there and it doesn't really happen," Griffin said when asked why he has responded to Rivers' approach so quickly. "I think that's the biggest reason. He says it, and then you see it in action."
As the senior vice president of basketball operations, Rivers has the power to trade any of his players. That's something of a double-edged sword for a coach. That power isn't always a good thing. But in Rivers' case, so far at least, it has helped his relationships with the two players who are crucial to the Clippers' championship aspirations.
From the jump, he looked both in the eye and said he believed in them.
"As soon as [Rivers] got here he told me, 'We're going to do it here with you,' " Jordan said. "He looked me in my eyes and I knew he was telling the truth.
"I respected that on a different level once he told me that up front."
It was exactly what he needed to hear after two seasons of feeling insecure about his place in the organization's plans, and a summer of reading his name in trade rumors.
"This summer, I just felt like he had to be here for us to be what we want to be," Rivers said. "And he's done it. He's really played terrific basketball. His defense has been unbelievable.
"You guys can't hear his talk, but I can. His talk on the floor has been terrific. I didn't know DeAndre so I didn't know if he could or would do that. But he's been just off the charts."
Rivers has said things like this about Jordan and Griffin all preseason. You barely even have to ask a question and he starts gushing.
"It feels good," Jordan said. "Doc definitely builds confidence in his players and it's not like he's blowing smoke. He really believes it. So it helps you build confidence in yourself.
"I always believed in myself, but it helps when you know the guy at the top believes in you."
This concept is central to Rivers' approach. Always has been, always will be.
As a rookie, he played in a pickup game with Magic Johnson, and asked him the secret to being successful.
"He said, 'You have to be confident.' That's the only thing he said," Rivers said. "That's a fact, but it's hard. It's hard when your minutes are up and down, when you aren't a starter. Sometimes you get taken out, your mind gets to working."
As a player, Rivers said he didn't always have confidence.
"That's why I was just average," he said. "If I missed two shots, I probably wasn't taking the third in a row for a while. Yet the guy next to me, Dominique [Wilkins], he could miss five in a row and he's thinking the odds have increased now."
It sounds simple. Obvious, even. But consider Griffin and Jordan. Both are supremely talented young players. Both are capable of so much more.
Both know it, too.
And there's the catch. The seed of insecurity that can grow into self-doubt if left unchecked.
Rivers identified it immediately and made both of them one promise: Things will be different.