His beard has grown long and shaggy. The clean-cut look Baron Davis brought into the season long since overgrown by a more grizzled look.
These first few months back in his hometown have been tough. A lot tougher than he expected, if we and he are being honest.
“I’m always optimistic, but I think I was too optimistic in the beginning of the season,” Davis said after the Clippers beat Houston 95-82 on Saturday night, marking their first two-game winning streak of the season.
“I just thought things were going to start clicking from the beginning. But missing training camp, with all these new faces, it was tough. For me, it was a humbling experience.”
Keeping the beard trimmed, in other words, was the least of his worries.
After 23 games, two games past a fourth of the NBA season already gone by, the Clippers have just six wins to show for their efforts.
But for the first time, since maybe the beginning of training camp, they have reason for optimism again.
Saturday’s win over Houston was their second in as many nights against one of the NBA’s elite teams. Houston and Portland, whom the Clippers beat in double overtime Friday night up in Portland, were two of only eight teams in the league with at least 15 wins coming into Saturday night.
“You’ve just got to feel your way out of it,” Davis said.
In terms of challenges he’s faced during his career, Davis said the Clippers woeful 4-17 start ranks “right up there” with the toughest situations he’s had to overcome.
“But now … I’ve never been more optimistic than I am now with this team.”
Strong words for a star player who has uttered few of them in the last month or two, preferring to keep quiet until a brighter day, if it ever came.
But with new power forward Zach Randolph turning in his second straight impressive game, Davis’ mood was starting to brighten, even though his face still looked grizzled and worn.
Saturday night Randolph finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Add that to Friday’s 38 points and 11 rebounds and you’ve got a dependable, if not dominant low post scorer.
“Zach is as good as advertised,” center Marcus Camby said. “There’s not a shot he can’t make. He’s a real great basketball player.”
Randolph, impervious to the early-season woes his new mates suffered through, didn’t even know it was the Clippers first back-to-back wins of the season.
“Really?” he asked, when a reporter asked for a reaction. “It’s a building block. We’re trying to build. That’s what we got to do every night. Come out and play hard and don’t worry about the offensive end until we get stops.”
Saturday night, that was the key against a Houston team that scored 119 points against Golden State on Friday night and 103 points against the Clippers back on December 3.
The Clippers held Houston to just 34 points in the second half Saturday. Only Yao Ming (24 points) and Tracy McGrady (19 points) finished in double figures.
“Games like this, when we don’t move he ball and move ourselves,” Rockets forward Shane Battier said. “We normally lose.”
Al Thornton scored 26 points for Los Angeles. Camby added 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. Davis had 13 points and nine assists.