Change of pace for the Clippers
Arash Markazi kept a diary of the sights and sounds of the 2013 Grammys trip
There was no room for all the Los Angeles Clippers who needed treatment in the visiting locker room at TD Garden in Boston.
Lamar Odom and Caron Butler were being stretched out on the floor in front of their lockers. Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul were getting treatment on the two training tables shoved to the side of the room. And Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin were trying to watch pregame film on a projector before realizing it was a thankless task in their cramped quarters on the road.
Meanwhile, about 20 reporters tiptoed around players' limbs as they squeezed into the locker room and tried to make their way around to talk to the Clippers before their game against the Boston Celtics.
"It didn't used to be like this," Odom said, reflecting on his first season with the Clippers in 1999. "We didn't have this many people in here."
Back then maybe a couple of beat writers would be in the visiting locker room before games to talk to the Clippers, but as they traveled around the East Coast on their eight-game, 14-day road trip, the Clippers were not only mobbed by out-of-town media but by fans wearing Clippers jerseys waiting for them outside their hotels and arriving early to the games to watch them shoot around.
"We have a larger fan base on the road," Griffin said. "But all that brings is a bull's-eye on our back. It's like when we play at home and the Celtics come to town and you see a lot of Celtics jerseys, we don't like that. We take that to heart and I'm sure other teams are doing the same thing. When they're used to not seeing a single Clippers jersey in the stands and now there are four or five. It makes a difference."
Boston: 'He's gifted'
When the Clippers go on the road during the Grammy trip, equipment manager Pete Serrano, head athletic trainer Jasen Powell and strength and conditioning coach Richard Williams, take everything out of their home locker room at Staples Center and bring it with them. The only thing left behind is the carpeting on the floor and pictures on the wall, which are covered when it is transformed into a dressing room for the likes of Jay-Z or Kanye West.
Powell has a knack for being a bit of a MacGyver on the road, making do with what he has when away from home, and that was never more on display than when Crawford broke his nose in the second game of the trip in Toronto. When the team arrived in Boston the next day, Crawford wasn't sure if he could play, but Powell began to play around with different kinds of protective masks to find a way to get Crawford on the court.
When Crawford arrived at the Garden before the game, a plastic mask with cushions taped on the inside was waiting for him at his locker.
"He made it out of scratch," Crawford said. "He's gifted."
With Paul and Billups already out because of injuries, Crawford didn't want to miss any time, so he started the game with the mask on before eventually ditching it after the first quarter.
"It felt kind of funny," Crawford said. "It was hard to breath, but I was able to play."
Orlando: 'I'm done'
The Clippers are no strangers to jokes about curses. They've been subject to more bad luck than the Washington Generals since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. Even though those days seem to be in their rearview mirror, there is one city where the Clippers would like to see even less than their one annual trip: Orlando.
Exactly one year after Billups suffered a season-ending torn left Achilles tendon in Orlando, Billups was back on the court at Amway Center before the Clippers played the Orlando Magic. But five minutes into a pick-up game with Powell, the Clippers' trainer ruptured his right Achilles tendon.
It was an eerie sight for Billups, who knew exactly what Powell was going through and remembered Powell being by his side a year to the day when he ruptured his Achilles on the same court.
"When that happened," Billups said, shaking his head. "I said, 'I'm done.' "
Needless to say, Billups didn't play against Orlando and saved his return for two days later in Miami.
Orlando: 'Clips win! Clips win!'
When the Clippers took the court in Orlando, they had only nine players in uniform as Griffin, Paul, Billups and Crawford were sidelined because of injuries. Before the game, Odom invited all of the Clippers players in uniform to join him at center court for the pregame meeting with the officials, which is normally reserved for team captains.
"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 player who stepped up the biggest for the short-handed Clippers and helped lead them to a 86-76 win over Orlando was Ryan Hollins, who played a season-high 24 minutes and had 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Before the game, Hollins had played more than eight minutes only once since November.
After the game, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan did their best Harry Caray impersonations as Hollins spoke to reporters to commend him on his performance.
"Ryan Hollins tonight was absolutely fantastic tonight," Griffin said, mimicking the famous Chicago Cubs' broadcaster. "He came out there like a fire ball. Clips win! Clips win!"
Miami: 'It's kind of weird to have everybody out there'
It took the Clippers only 52 games, but on Feb. 8 they finally had all their players in uniform, practicing and ready to take on the Miami Heat. Paul, Griffin, Crawford and Billups were back and the deepest team in the NBA on paper was finally ready to show how deep it was on the court.
"It's kind of weird to have everybody out there," Griffin said. "It's nice to have a full team. It'll be nicer to run out of the locker room and do layups and you don't have to get a layup every 10 seconds."
Before the game, coach Vinny Del Negro circled all 13 healthy players on the roster for the active list given to officials pregame with a black pen. After the Clippers lost 111-89 in their most lopsided game this season, the box score was filled with red ink as Del Negro circled every problem he saw.
"The 3-point defense is my biggest concern," Del Negro said. "We'll lock-in defensively, which we have most of the season, but we got to get our rotations down now and figure out guys' minutes and who's doing what at what part of the game and just put it all together."
Miami to New York: 'We're on schedule'
There are worse NBA cities to be stuck in than Miami, but the Clippers weren't sure if their Saturday afternoon flight to New York would leave on time as winter storm Nemo pounded the northeast. The team's plan was always to spend Friday night in Miami, practice at the American Airlines Arena before heading for the airport but as practice began Saturday, the Clippers were still in constant communication with the league before finally being given the go-ahead.
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"Everything is fine," Del Negro said after practice. "We're on schedule."
The delay and short practice didn't dampen the mood of Griffin, who practiced heaving half-court shots before getting on the team bus to the airport.
"I don't understand how people take these during the game without a running start," Griffin said while chucking the ball at the basket like a quarterback. "Most of the time they aren't close."
New York: 'I will not be 40 years old and playing in this league'
Grant Hill didn't expect to see much playing time when the Clippers arrived in New York to play the Knicks. He did not play against the Heat and sat for basically the first three quarters against the Knicks as he watched Carmelo Anthony torch the Clippers for 38 points. That's when Del Negro turned to Hill and watched the 40-year-old veteran get under Anthony's skin and hold him to just four points in the fourth quarter.
Hill still had a smile on his face after the game, even with ice packs taped around both knees and his feet submerged in a bucket of ice.
"He's one of my favorite players to watch," Hill said of Anthony. "You just try to do things to make it difficult. And you have to have selective memory because when he hits a shot, you've just got to be able to move on to the next play. He's a great player and I enjoy the challenge."
Paul, who singled out Hill as the reason the Clippers beat the Knicks, went up to him toward the end of the game and said, "You're 40 years old, but you were the difference in the game tonight."
"I tell him all the time, I will not be 40 years old and playing in this league" Paul said. "I wish I could, but I can't."