Chris Paul humbled by Clippers fans
LOS ANGELES -- He couldn't even speak after he was introduced at midcourt.
The crowd at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California was too deafening, chanting "C-P-3" over and over as new Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul patiently waited to talk before the team's Sunday scrimmage.
Participating in his second-ever practice with the team and first scrimmage in front of fans, the newest Clipper thanked the 6,000-plus fans in attendance profusely and promised that he and his teammates would compete in every game they played this season.
Then, he went out and finished with a comfortable seven points and five assists in the 21-minute scrimmage, going head-to-head with Mo Williams at the point guard slot.
"It's humbling," Paul said afterward. "Kind of embarrassing for a second but humbling. It's all in fun.
"I'm just excited about what we have here and I'm extremely grateful for the welcome the fans have given me."
Paul, in his seventh year in the NBA, looked a tad slower than his normal speedy self on the court Sunday. Wearing a red long-sleeved shirt under his blue practice jersey, he took it somewhat easy -- even trying one All-Star Game-like juke move near the basket that led to a turnover.
And he didn't connect with superstar forward Blake Griffin on an alley-oop, as many hoped. But he did find leaper DeAndre Jordan in the air for a dunk, and he assisted two of Griffin's four makes on the day. He shot 3-of-6 from the field in total in leading the Clippers' five-man starting unit to a 35-32 overtime win over the backups.
But, in general, it was easy to see where the hype comes from. His shot was silky-smooth in pregame warmups, and he calmly directed the team toward the end of the scrimmage in a manner previous Clipper point guards never appeared to master.
"He's gonna lose a few pounds, he's gonna feel a little bit better," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said of Paul. "Right now, when you come in, the play-sets are a little bit different, the terminology's a little bit different. It's easier, because he's been around and he knows a lot of this stuff.
"In this game, if you're a step slow, you're in trouble. Every day, he'll get a little bit more comfortable."
Paul was cleared to practice only Saturday night for the Clippers, after being traded from the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday and arriving in L.A. on Thursday. He was delayed making his debut by former Clippers center Chris Kaman, who didn't take his physical in New Orleans until mid-afternoon Saturday.
There isn't much time. The Clippers have only three more practices left on their schedule before the opener.
Echoing what he told the Galen Center crowd, Paul said the Clippers were going to be as close to 100 percent as possible heading into that game, despite the extremely-shortened schedule and all.
"We're gonna put the work in," he said. "No days off."
Question No. 1 on most minds is how Paul and fellow new Clipper Chauncey Billups will fit together in the backcourt. Both players have been point guards their entire careers, and now Billups is being asked to play shooting guard, which Paul will also have to occasionally do.
There weren't any obvious issues with that setup during Sunday's scrimmage.
"It's worked just fine to me," Paul said. "It's gonna take some time, because this is our first time playing together -- all of us -- so it's not just about how it's gonna work with us, it's how it's going to work with the whole.
"I've had no problems."
Del Negro, in his second season with the Clippers and fourth season as an NBA head coach, has never dealt with a schedule like this. But he has said and continues to say that experienced players like Paul and Billups will make the transition an easier one.
The Clippers clearly can't afford to waste any time.
"All of the practices and all of the exhibition games we have now are so vital, because we don't have a lot of time. It's not like a regular training camp, where you have a month.
"Today was basically our second practice."
Pedro Moura is a staff reporter for ESPNLosAngelse.com.