Not long after he agreed to a contract with the Clippers during the offseason, backup power forward Ronny Turiaf got a phone call from coach Vinny Del Negro. Then another. Then another. Then another. It was something new and different for Turiaf.
If you still think the Clippers’ winning streak isn’t a big deal — and who would really still be thinking that as they go for their 18th in a row Tuesday night in Denver? — then consider that there have been entire seasons when they didn’t win that many games.
Seven of them, in fact.
It’s hard to imagine now, with the Clippers riding the wave of a 17-game winning streak after a 107-96 victory Sunday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, but coach Vinny Del Negro was sitting on a rather hot seat going into 2012-13.
Because the Clippers assembled the most talented roster in their history during the offseason and because expectations were higher than ever before after a second-round playoff appearance last spring, Del Negro’s future beyond this season was in doubt.
If you missed any or all of the chatter last night on TNT, here are a couple of thoughtful comments about the Clippers before, during and after their rout of the Boston Celtics. The victory was the league-leading Clippers’ 15 consecutive.
Charles Barkley on how to beat the Clippers: “I don’t like their half-court offense. As long as they are running and dunking, they will be tough to beat. But if you slow them down and make them walk the ball up and down the court, I think that’s going to be their bug-a-boo.”
One of these days veteran guard Chauncey Billups will be sound enough to return to the Clippers’ starting lineup and Willie Green will take a seat on the bench. If all goes as planned, Billups will play significant minutes and Green will be a cheerleader.
Green won’t say a word in anger. He won’t complain about his reduced role.
That’s simply not his method of operation.
“We all have to do our parts,” Green said before scoring nine points Thursday in the Clippers’ 106-77 beat-down of the Boston Celtics when asked about the inevitable move from starter to backup when Billups recovers from ankle tendinitis. “Great teams become great because everybody knows their role.”
Green was something of a surprise choice to fill in for Billups, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear last February and didn’t make his 2012-13 debut until Nov. 28. Billups started three games and Green didn’t play a minute in any of them.
When tendinitis flared in his ankle, Billups returned to the sideline and Green became a starter again. Green’s production isn’t what the Clippers expect to get from a healthy Billups, but somehow he and the team have made it work en route to a league-leading 22-6 record going into Thursday.
“There is something special going on here and we all have to do our parts,” said Green, who went into Thursday’s game averaging only 5.9 points and 1.5 rebounds. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement. It’s still early in the season.”
There’s no timetable for Billups’ return to the active roster, which means Green will continue in his role for the immediate future. Green has played with damaged knee cartilage, something Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro takes into account when assessing the veteran guard’s production.
“Willie’s a pro,” Del Negro said. “He’s solid on the court and off the court and in the locker room. He gives us what he can. I think that’s one of the reasons we wanted him (in a trade last July 30 from the Atlanta Hawks). No one knows when Chauncey’s going to be back.”
So, Green has the job until Billups does return to the lineup.
First at last. The Clippers have been the NBA’s hottest team for days and weeks now. They finally moved atop the league’s overall standings with a resounding 112-100 victory Tuesday night over the Denver Nuggets in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 19,346 at Staples Center.
The victory extended the Clippers’ franchise-record winning streak to 14 games and they improved their overall mark to 22-6, a half-game better than second-place Oklahoma City. The Thunder (21-6) lost earlier in the day to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.