On the eve of the 2013-14 NBA season, Clippers guard Chris Paul apparently could not be more ready.
His free-agent deal behind him and with new coach Doc Rivers hauling in some extra talent in the offseason, Paul was asked if this could be the best team he’s ever been a part of. Excepting, of course, the U.S. Olympic team.
“No question,” Paul said. “I think we definitely have the tools. The season should be a lot of fun.”
First things first, and it gets underway Tuesday night at Staples Center on the Lakers’ court (and under the Lakers’ banners and retired jerseys.
This might be the Clippers’ year to contend for a title, but they’re not about to overlook the Lakers in the second year of the Mike D’Antoni regime, even if they will be without Kobe Bryant at the outset of the campaign.
“Coach D’Antoni has those guys runninm, playing fast, everything is probably centered around Pau (Gasol) as it should be right now,” Paul said. “It’s going to be a big test.”
The Lakers have added former Clippers center Chris Kaman to their mix and that is a red flag in itself. And the Clippers aren’t buying into the notion of their crosstown rivals as being less than a playoff team.
“They have a lot of size, size is something that hurt us last year,” Rivers said. “It’s going to be our concern going into it. (Steve) Nash is starting the season healthy,. They’re going to be a good team. I hear all this stuff about how they’re not going to be. I think they’re going to be a good team.”
Paul, too, is wary.
“Kaman can play,” he said. “I don’t know if you guys know that. I know it for a fact, Chris Kaman can really play. So to have those two big guys down there will be a huge test for our bigs and then me – I’m playing against a two-time MVP (Nash), which is a huge test.”
— Ready? Yes and no
Rivers said he and his team are prepared for the start of the season yet there remained a couple of questions he faced. One he couldn’t answer – yet – and the other he was as definitive as he could be.
First, does he have any concerns after training camp?
“You know, I don’t know – and that’s a concern,” he said with a little smile. “Because I don’t know the team yet. I know them as far as I know them over the last month.
“I look at our team and I see our athleticism. We spent a lot of time in preseason trying to teach spacing. Now we want to put it all together and go to the post a lot more and keep spacing. But I don’t know how we’re going to react yet under duress.. And we will be under duress in a lot of games.”
At the end of eight preseason games, Rivers noted his team had taken a step or two back on the defensive end but when the curtain rises, he expects the Clippers’ focus to snap back into place.
“Yeah, I do. It doesn’t mean you play great defense but I think they’ll give us the great defensive try, I’ll guarantee you that,” he said. “Our guys know our defense now. We can always get better at it and better at it because that’s trust.
“Defense is trust as much as anything and you don’t just walk into camp and say, ‘OK guys, do this and you have trust.’ That comes through the fire. But I think we know it and that’s the first part.
The debate rages. At least it did before Clippers practice Monday, when DeAndre Jordan was asked if the Clippers vs. the Lakers constituted a rivalry.
“I don’t think so,” Jordan said. “You guys want it to be. I would say Memphis more than the Lakers.”
One questioner pressed on.
“Stop trying to validate your point,” Jordan said, drawing laughter. “No. I went to Texas A&M and Texas wasn’t our rival. They were Oklahoma’s rival, but I hated Texas. It’s not like that’s my rivalry. If anybody, I’d say Memphis.”
Case closed? Stay tuned.
After getting out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter, the depleted Clippers bench couldn’t keep up with Sacramento Friday night as closed out the preseason with a 110-100 loss at Staples Center.
Chris Paul scored 23 points and Jamal Crawford added 17 for the Clippers, who open the regular season Tuesday on the Lakers’ court at Staples Center.
“We’ll be ready. I’m excited to get going,” said forward Blake Griffin, who had seven points and eight rebounds as the Clippers closed the exhibition schedule with a 5-3 record. “These next three days are important for us in terms of preparation and I think our mindset will be in the right place.”
Reserve forward Matt Barnes made his season debut and started, but fouled out after 21 minutes. He went 0-for-5 from the floor and scored four points, The Clippers played without reserve point guard Darren Collison (sore knee) and guard/forward jared Dudley, who was given the night off by Coach Doc Rivers.
The Clippers were outscored, 69-41, over the second and third quarters and Rivers once again pointed out how the defensive intensity that he saw from the club early in the preseason was missing again.
“Defensively we’ve taken a little step back and we’ve got to get that going again,” Rivers said. “It’s not a big deal to me right now. We’ll have this conversation four, five, 10, 12 more times. It’s called human life. You go up and down, it ebbs and flows. We’ll just keep working on it. We’ll be a great defensive team. We have too many good defensive players.”
Willie Green came off the bench to score 12 points and center DeAndre Jordan addedf 12 points, nine rebounds and three more blocked shots, giving him 24 in the eight preseason games.
Guard Isaiah Thomas came off the bench to score 27 to lead Sacramento (5-2) and center DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points in 19 minutes.
This is it for the preseason. With Tuesday’s opener on the Lakers’ court, the Clippers pretty much know where they stand except for one position.
Who will grab the role as the the team’s third big man behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin?
Coach Doc Rivers hopes Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens and Lou Amundson can shake it out with their play but that hasn’t happened yet.
“The one thing every coach wants is separation,” Rivers said. “Ryan’s had his minutes where he’s played well and so has Mully and so has Lou. At the end of the day it’ll be by committee and if someone separates, that’s great.
“If they don’t, it’s not a big deal either. If we have two guys, we can play either one. And you just hope you pick the right guy. If he’s not going, then you have another guy. That competition’s not all bad either.”
It will be a fleeting matchup because most of the starters won’t play long in the final preseason game, but Clippers coach Doc Rivers is looking forward to seeing DeAndre Jordan square off against Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.
“I love this. That’s the one part I love,” Rivers said. “I think Cousins is a really good player. Really Physical, tough, and he’s heavy – not meaning out of shape. The heavy big guys are tough to guard for anybody, especially when he has foot speed. He’s a talented kid. That’ll be a good matchup.”
Sharman, a Hall of Fame player and coach, died Friday at his home in Redondo Beach:
“He meant a lot of things to a lot of people. I was too young to remember him as a player, really almost too young to remember him as a coach. I got to remember him after his career. Every time he came in town, when I was in Orlando and especially when I was in Boston, he made a point of coming in to talk. Just a really gentle, nice human being.
“I think a lot of players remember him because he’s responsible for shootaround. I don’t know if they liked that or not – my guess would be not. But he is obviously one of the few people who made it to the Hall of Fame as a player and as a coach.
“He meant a lot to the league and we’re going to miss him.”
Forward Matt Barnes has missed all seven preseason games with a sore left calf but he plans to be on the floor Friday night when the Clippers close out their exhibition schedule against Sacramento.
Without Barnes, a key reserve, it’s been a bit of a struggle for the Clippers’ second unit to gel as it did last season when the bench was among the best in the NBA.
“It’s been frustrating but also educational to really see where I can have an effect on the second unit,” Barnes said. “Our second unit still doesn’t have an identity and I think sitting back and watching these last (seven) games I can really see where I can help filling voids and really be that voice for that second unit to get us into what we need to do offensively and defensively.”
J.J. Redick scored 14 points in his debut and the Clippers used their reserves to fend off Utah, 103-99, at Staples Center Wednesday night and now have only one preseason game left until next week’s season opener against the Lakers.
Chris Paul had 14 points and 10 assists, Blake Griffin scored 15 points, Jamal Crawford had 16 off the bench and Darren Collison had 14 of his 15 points in the second half as the Clippers improved to 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Sacramento.
Redick, who had a thigh contusion, started and played 20 minutes.
“I felt good to play, it felt good to be part of the game,” Redick said. “It’s frustrating to watch six games. I have a little bit of ways to go cardio wise . . . but I’ll get that going.
“My body feels great. We handled this injury the correct way. I’m glad I got the MRI, initially we treated it as just a bruise but it was a little bit more than that. The biggest thing is being in better game shape.”
It remains to be seen if Redick will be in the starting lineup in the opener, among the many determinations Coach Doc Rivers still must make.
“I don’t know if we’re ready (for the regular season) but I’m ready to get going,” Rivers said. “We hope we’re ready enough to win games.”
Rivers did express concern over his club’s team defense, which he said has not maintained to progress it started with as training camp opened.
“We’ve gone back and forth,” Rivers said. “I thought we took a step back the last two games, honestly. The second half was much better.
“Defensively, even though we’ve regressed the last couple games, I think we’re where we need to be. Offensively we have a lot of work to do.”
“Yeah, it hasn’t been as good,” Griffin said of the defense. “We need to get back to talking and being active defensively and making sure we don’t give up easy baskets but hopefully we can iron those things out in the next four or five days.”
Rookie Reggie Bullock also made his debut after nursing a sore knee. He played five minutes and didn’t score.
“Just wanted to get him in today. I’ll play him a lot more on Friday,” Rivers said. “It was good for him, to just get going a little. He kind of broke down defensively, getting away from the body.”
J.J. Redick finally shook off that bruised thigh and was in the Clippers’ starting lineup against Utah Wednesday night. Coach Doc Rivers has talked of Redick’s presence in the offense, describing his movement and work off of screens can be its own offense.
Rivers wasn’t looking for much more from Redick’s debut.
“Just what he gives us,” Rivers said. “He’s such a pro so he’s going to give you automatic energy. No one wants to guard him because he never stops moving and that in itself is an offense for us at times. I’m really curious to see how that looks.”
Redick’s first stint consisted of five points on 2-for-3 shooting, including a 3-pointer. The miss was an airball from 3-point land. Redick also picked up two fouls.
“He’s smaller so defensively I’m curious to see how that looks,” Rivers said. “But I like him on the floor. It looks good.”