Chauncey Billups closer but still not ready to make Clippers season debut

One of these days veteran guard Chauncey Billups will tell Clipeprs coach Vinny Del Negro everything is fine at last with his Achilles tendon and he’s ready to play in his first game since he was injured in a game last Feb. 12 against the Magic in Orlando.

It’s expected to happen sooner rather than later, with reporting last week Billups was targeting a return to the active roster sometime in the first week of December. Del Negro said there remains no timetable for Billups’ return.

“That’s my CBS report for you,” Del Negro said.

Billups is scheduled to practice with his teammates today.

“He’ll be ready when he says he’s ready to go,” Del Negro added.

DeAndre Jordan adding offense to his game for the Clippers

Tomorrow’s story today …

DeAndre Jordan has made seven consecutive free throws.

He’s almost doubled his career scoring average.

Shaquille O’Neal called him the Western Conference’s best center right now.

Jordan’s progress with the basketball in his hands has been so remarkable so far this season and so helpful in balancing the Clippers’ all-too-predictable offense that it’s difficult to select which of the three lines above is more astounding than the others.

Let’s go line by line.

First, the Clippers hired a shooting coach, Bob Thate, to work with Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin to improve their free throw percentages. The Clippers believed Jordan and Griffin gave away points with poor free-throw shooting.

Jordan shot 52.5 percent in 2011-12, a career best, but nothing to brag about. He’s connecting at only 46.7 percent (7 of 15) this season, but he’s made seven in a row going into tonight’s game against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

So, perhaps Thate’s tutoring is playing dividends.

Second, Jordan’s scoring average is up to 11.3 points after seven games. His career average was a paltry 6.1 points after four seasons as a defense-first center on a team that didn’t ask him to do much offensively.

Jordan has shown a willingness to shoot when in the low post so far this season. He’s displayed a nice touch on his running hooks, confident in his shot with either hand. He’s also been unstoppable at point-blank range, dunking with authority.

Third, O’Neal’s comments came after fellow TNT analyst Steve Kerr addressed the Clippers’ lack of offensive variety last season. Without naming names, Kerr suggested the Clippers relied too heavily on Griffin and point guard Chris Paul.

This season, the Clippers have encouraged Jordan to look for his shot more often.

“We tell ‘D.J.’ he’s a huge part of this team,” Paul said of Jordan, who has scored 20 points or more twice this season and has two other games with 10 points or more. “He knows it, too. To us, he’s one of our most valuable players.”

O’Neal, who knows a thing or two about playing the center position after a Hall of Fame career that included three NBA titles with the Lakers to start the 2000s and a fourth with the Heat, praised Jordan’s play.

“I don’t know what all the other big guys were doing this summer, but I know what DeAndre Jordan was doing. He was working on his game,” O’Neal said during last Thursday’s telecast of the Clippers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“He’s playing like a real big man, taking his time and going right over the top,” O’Neal continued. “I’m going on the record. The best center in the West right now is DeAndre Jordan. You heard it here first.”

Blake Griffin takes it ‘easy’ in Clippers’ victory over Hawks

Blake Griffin swiped an errant pass with the Clippers locked in a tight game with the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. He had nothing but open court ahead of him and a sellout crowd rose to its feet anticipation of what was to come.

How many revolutions would he make?

How high would he leap?

What kind sort of degree of difficulty would be involved?

Griffin disappointed all of the fans, including Shaquille O’Neal, who was seated in a courtside seat. Griffin jumped no higher than he needed to and dropped the ball easily through the basket as 19,060 fans groaned in disappointment.

“I was going to dunk it,” Griffin said of what might be the tamest of all his dunks gave the Clippers a 63-60 lead with 42.4 seconds left in the third quarter. “I kind of just let it go. I was wondering if I’d hear some boos, and the loudest was from Shaq.”

Talk about a tough audience.

“Yeah, I booed him,” O’Neal, a former NBA center who is now a TV commentator, said not long after Griffin scored a team-leading 16 points in the Clippers’ 89-76 victory. “I paid $1,400 for those seats. I want to see some (exciting plays).”

No question, Griffin likes to throw down crowd-pleasing dunks, but he also wants to preserve his body for battles to come. So, he took the easy route, and gave himself and his ongoing battle with a sore neck and a burst bursa sac in his right elbow a break.

Plus, there was more at stake for Griffin and the Clippers at that point in the game. Griffin had just given the Clippers a 61-60 lead with a short jumper. His dunk made it 63-60. Soon enough, the Clippers were up 85-65 in the fourth quarter.

Griffin played only 1 minute, 11 seconds in the final quarter with the Clippers well ahead and just 30:07 for the game. Griffin is averaging 32.1 minutes through the season’s first seven games, down from 36.2 minutes last season.

Asked about his injuries, Griffin said, “Neck’s good, elbow’s better.”

Chauncey Billups conflicted about return from Achilles injury

Chauncey Billups told a newspaper reporter Wednesday there was no timetable for his return to the active roster after suffering a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury last February. Then he said during an ESPN interview he’d be back in a month.

So, which is it?

Billups hedged.

“I said both of them,” the veteran guard admitted before the Clippers faced the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. “So, you can write both of them.”

Officially, the Clippers have no target date set for Billups’ season debut.

Unofficially, Billups can’t say when he’ll play because he can’t say.

When he’s sound enough to play, he’ll play.

“That’s the beast about it,” Billups said after a pregame workout.

There’s little doubt the Clippers missed Billups’ steady influence during an up-and-down start to the season that featured an average of 18.8 turnovers going into Wednesday, far too many to suit coach Vinny Del Negro.

“The basketball is valuable and you have to control it,” Del Negro said.

Then he included Billups’ absence as one of the reasons for the Clippers’ sloppy play during victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers and losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers to start 2012-13.

Del Negro asked the remarkably athletic Clippers to play at a faster pace this season, but they’ve been too frenetic at times during their first four games. He also would like them to be more disciplined and make better decisions with the ball.

Willie Green started in place of Billups at shooting guard Wednesday for the fifth consecutive game. Billups is expected to slide into Green’s spot when he’s ready to play, with Green moving to a reserve role.

When that is, is anyone’s guess, however.

“It’s coming,” Billups said of his slow but steady rehabilitation and recovery.

Asked about Billups’ conflicting pregame statements, Del Negro shrugged and said, “There’s no timetable, but it could be earlier.”

–Vote of confidence for Odom

Lamar Odom, a versatile backup forward, played only four minutes during the Clippers’ lackluster loss Monday to the Cavaliers and scored two points on 1-for-2 shooting with two turnovers. He had zero rebounds or assists.

Odom was sidelined for the better part of three weeks during training camp because of sore knees, but Del Negro said he’s healthy now and that wasn’t the reason for such limited minutes in Monday’s game.

“He has to get in better condition and he has to learn what we’re doing out there,” Del Negro said. “He knows that. We’ve got to get him in a good rhythm out there. I have confidence in him and his teammates have confidence in him, and he knows that.”

Odom went into Wednesday averaging 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 12.3 minutes. He hadn’t played more than 20 minutes and hadn’t scored more than five points in a game in his first four contests.

Clippers disappointed in their play during losses to Cavs, Warriors

Tomorrow’s notebook today …

There’s a word to describe the Clippers’ feelings after look-alike defeats Saturday to the Golden State Warriors and Monday to the Cleveland Cavaliers, inferior teams that won with a good deal more grit and determination and efficiency.

“Disappointed,” point guard Chris Paul said after Tuesday’s practice.

Paul didn’t limit himself to a one-word answer, either.

“Disappointed, and it starts with me as a point guard,” he added. “I can’t let us come out and start out games like that. Giving up 30-point (first) quarters like that the past two games is always going to be tough to come back from.”

The Clippers’ defense wasn’t sound enough in either game. Their rebounding was poor and so was their ballhandling. Above all, their intensity wasn’t what it should have been at the start of each game and they paid the price.

They didn’t get away with it against two teams that missed the playoffs last season, and might not make it in 2012-13. So, they know they’re going to have to play a more complete game when the San Antonio Spurs visit Staples Center tonight.

After victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers to start the season, the Clippers could have been 4-0 going into tonight’s playoff rematch against the Spurs. Instead, they’re only 2-2 and searching for answers.

The Clippers hoped to get off to a fast start, what with seven of their first nine games at home. So far, they are only 1-2 on their home court, missing a chance to bank a few more victories before their schedule gets a little more taxing later this month.

“We’ve just got to get better,” Paul said. “I think we’re one of those teams that it’s not going to matter whether we’re home or away. We just need to play right wherever we’re at. Road games are not going to affect us.”

Twenty-five turnovers Monday against the Cavaliers contributed mightily to the Clippers’ downfall. They had 16 turnovers Saturday against the Warriors, but missed five shots and two free throws and committed two giveaways to start the game.

“We haven’t done anything,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Everything right now is on paper and that doesn’t win you a lot of games. You have to go out there and perform and you have produce and execute and we haven’t done that the last two games.”

–Blake Griffin injury update

The Clippers aren’t overly concerned about power forward Blake Griffin’s ongoing struggles with a burst bursa sac in his right elbow, an injury that’s not expected to keep him from playing in tonight’s game against the Spurs.

Del Negro said he was a little worried about Griffin’s stiff neck after a collision during a drill during Tuesday’s practice, however. Del Negro said Griffin sat out roughly half of the team’s workout.

“Blake’s a tough kid,” Del Negro said. “He’ll fight through it.”

–Clippers scheduling change

The starting time of the Clippers’ game Nov. 17 against the Chicago Bulls was changed to 6 p.m., the NBA announced. It was originally scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. start as part of a day-night doubleheader with the NHL’s Kings. The NHL has locked out its players and the game has been cancelled.