Originally Published: January 6, 2014

1. Without CP3, Clippers Stay On Point

By Kevin Arnovitz | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul won't acknowledge that misfortune often comes with unintended benefits.

He can't fathom the idea that an AC joint separation in his right shoulder will allow his legs to rest while he rehabilitates. He doesn't want to hear that being sidelined might allow the team to grow in his absence, or that everyone in his life is pulling for him.

Darren Collison
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokDarren Collison stepped in for Chris Paul and delivered 21 points and seven assists.

"I ain't trying to hear all that, man," Paul said prior to the Clippers' 101-81 gorging of the Orlando Magic on Monday. "I want to play and I need to play."

In Paul's world, there is no silver-linings playbook; there's only the Clippers' official playbook -- and he's the protagonist. This isn't bravado, arrogance or any lack of confidence in his teammates. Paul is merely stating what everyone in the game understands: He drives the Clippers' offense. Without him, it's a bit of guesswork.

"Obviously, we're going to do some things differently because, the bottom line is, we were doing things only Chris Paul could see," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "There are few guards who can see the things he can see, and you're not going to get those, so you have to get it in a different way."

A Clippers' possession is an expression of Paul's vision: the orchestration of the set, the delivery of the ball, the nuance of the timing. Control is Paul's currency and he can't tolerate when it's taken away from him.

"I feel like, as athletes, you prepare and you do everything possible to try to not get injured," Paul said. "That's all the preparation. That's strength training. That's stretching. That's everything. I think that was the most frustrating part."

On Monday, the Clippers suffered few ill effects from Paul's absence. Darren Collison, Paul's understudy, zipped up and down the court like a lightning bug. He drained his first eight shot attempts of the night and finished with a season-high 21 points, and dished out seven assists. Somehow a team without the league's leading assist man racked up 30.

"[Collison] had it three or four times where he could've shot the ball, and instead he gave it to his teammates," Rivers said. "It just makes your team whole ... when a point guard gives up shots that he could take, then all of a sudden they want to pay it back."

Count Blake Griffin among the reciprocators. He dished out six assists from the mid-post in yet another multifaceted, fill-up-the-box-score outing. Jamal Crawford struggled from the field, but with Paul on the pine, the sniper assumed the role of dual distributors, leading the team with eight assists.

The Clippers' offense on Monday night was prolific, but the defense has been the story over the past month, and it will have to be their salvation while their starting backcourt of Paul and J.J. Redick are on the shelf. Monday's win was the D's most efficient performance of the season through three quarters. The Magic couldn't find reliable driving lanes and were unable or unwilling to work the ball to their weakside releases. It was something awful against the Clippers' disciplined defense. The result: A binge of contested midrange junk food.

DeAndre Jordan, who has anchored the Clippers' D during its meteoric rise in recent weeks, flirted with a triple-double: 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocks. The big man is beginning to master the science of straddling the edges of the paint at the rhythm of a 2.9-second count. He has learned when to commit to an incursion into the lane, and when to lay back and let his presence deter.

"Our coaches stress [defense] a lot more, and what they want from us," Jordan said. "I'm really in the right spots defensively to be effective. They put a lot on me and really I'm just embracing it."

With Paul and Redick out, the Clippers' backcourt depth has been stretched to the limit, yet it's the frontcourt rotation that has been iffy all season behind Griffin and Jordan.

The Byron Mullens experiment failed, with the former Bobcat posting some of the worst defensive numbers since the advent of the NBA's plus-minus abacus. Ryan Hollins can set a screen and defend a pick-and-roll, but is more suited to limited duty than first-big-man-off-the-bench status. Antawn Jamison is shooting 30.6 percent as a stretch-3 disguised as a retch-4.

Where do the Clippers turn to bolster their frontcourt? A new candidate will almost certainly be in play on Tuesday afternoon when Andrew Bynum will likely be released by the Chicago Bulls, who traded Luol Deng for the forlorn center on Monday night.

Sources with knowledge of the Clippers' thinking say the team will take a close look at Bynum if and when he becomes available. The Clippers wouldn't need a ton from the former Laker -- just 12-16 minutes per night of interior defense and an insurance policy against a potential injury to one of the starters.

The Clippers' guards know how to find their big men on the block and in transition, so there are generally enough handouts to keep a hungry center sated. There's a firm belief that whatever cultural failings may or may not have contributed to Bynum's demise in Cleveland wouldn't be an issue with Rivers and Paul as president and prime minister in Clipperland.

Dimes past: December 18 | 19 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 25 | 26 | 29 | 30 | 31 | Jan. 1 | 2 | 5

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