Before the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle took time to marvel at Dirk Nowitzki, who’s avering 21.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in his 15 th NBA season.
“He’s just more skilled than everyone,” Rivers said. “It almost comes down to that with him. He’s 7 feet tall, he’s maybe the best shooter in the league if not top 5, still, and at that size, he’s very difficult to guard.
“As a staff, you’re sitting around, you concoct all these ways that don’t work to try to guard him. It’s amazing how many different ways I’ve seen him guarded.”
Carlisle was asked how Nowitzki has been able to return to form after missing the first 27 games last season due to knee surgery.
“Never underestimate greatness at any age,” Carlisle said. “And 35 ain’t that old. I’ve had a lot of guys, Reggie Miller playing when he was 39, his last game was a playoff game against Detroit and he had 26 points and he decided to call it quits. He could have easily played two or three more years.
“I’ve been lucky, I’ve had some guys that have been really terrific players – I had Reggie Miller, Ben Wallace became a great player in Detroit, (Chauncey) Billups was a great player and great clutch player, Jason Kidd played ’til he was 40 years old and Dirk’s the best of the best within that group, and they’re all tremendous.”
When Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the signing of veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu is imminent, he also admitted to revealing one of the league’s worst-kept secrets.
“How do you pronounce his name?,” Rivers asked with a smile. “Because I may have to get used to that.”
Turkoglu has apparently passed enough informal entry tests and is a phyusical exam away from signing. Rivers said that Turkoglu’s 20-game suspension for banned substances was among the topics that were covered in the vetting.
“It’s no concern now for me,” Rivers said of the suspension. “He’s going to do his physicals whenever we finally get all the stuff done but we do anticipate signing him. At least we hope. Nothing’s official til it’s official. I usually don’t say stuff but I think everyone pretty much knows.
“You always address (all issues) when you bring guys in and you talk to them. You talk to them about anything that’s happened in his past, not only just that, but he was in Orlando and didn’t play. Every guy you bring in, that’s nothing new.”
Rivers added that if he’s signed, Turkoglu would be available to join the club for their seven-game East Coast road trip that begins Friday in New York. He’s confident Turkoglu will fit in with the club.
“Yeah, you never know how (locker room chemistry) goes,” Rivers said. “I think with the veterans it usually goes pretty well. Veterans are pretty easy to fit in in the locker room. Young guys for the most part don’t know what to do in the locker room. I don’t really have a concern when you bring veterans in.”
Veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu worked out for the Clippers on Thursday, but Rivers said that no signing is imminent.
“It was good. He made shots from everywhere,” Rivers said. “He looked good, it was a good workout, but we’re not doing anything anytime soon. But he did look good.”
Rivers refused to comment on speculation the Clippers might make a bid to sign former Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who was traded by Cleveland to Chicago and then cut the next day.
“I won’t say. Playing poker right now,” Rivers said. “We’ve had internal discussions about everyone.
“We do talk about everyone. I like our team, though. I tread very cautiously with change.”
It turns out that J.J. Redick, back for the Clippers Friday night after missing 21 games, could have come back a game sooner.
Coach Doc Rivers seemed to wish he had given the green light to Redick to play on Wednesday against Boston, when the Clippers’ bench scored only 12 points (seven for Willie Green, five for Matt Barnes).
With Redick back in the starting lineup, Jamal Crawford and his 16.9-point scoring average can bolster the bench.
“He may have been able to play against Boston, but we went the extra practice with him,” Rivers said. “Honestly, the thing that convinced me . . . but the game the other night and the second unit’s inability to score, let’s get Jamal back in that group as soon as we can.”
Which is fine with Crawford.
“Yeah, you know me, I’m a team player,” Crawford said. “I’ve been Sixth Man (of the Year), I’m comfortable in that position, starting, as long as we’re winning I’m fine either way.”
Redick is finally healed after breaking a bone in his hand and partially tearing a ligament.
“You never know until the day of I guess, but Tuesday when I was able to go through the full practice I figured Friday would be a decent shot if I continued to progress,” Redick said. “There’s no pain. The only issue is just a little stiffness just from being casted for three weeks. I don’t feel things when I shoot or dribble or things like that. My extremes in terms of flexibility are the same as my left hand. I’m good to go. I wouldn’t be playing if I wasn’t.”
Chris Paul woke up Sunday morning and the healing had begun. Even if the hurt lingered.
“I’m cool,” he said Monday, three days after suffering a separated right shoulder. “It’s one of those situations where it could have been worse. I woke up yesterday and was done feeling sorry for myself. I’ve got to approach the rehab and get back as soon as I possibly can.”
Paul was injured in the third quarter in Dallas and an MRI revealed a grade 3 AC joint separation. The good news for Paul was that surgery won’t be required, but the Clippers said he will be out for as many as six weeks.
When he hit the floor and landed on his shoulder, Paul knew it wasn something he’d be able to shake off right away.
“I was mad, that’s why I slammed my mouthpiece,” Paul said before the Clippers tipped with Orlando at Staples Center. “I felt it when it happened, I could sort of hear it and I knew that it was pretty significant.
“The thing that made me mad too was I feel like as an athlete, you prepare and do everything possible to try to not get injured. That’s all that preparation, that strength training, stretching, everything. That was the most frustrating part.”
Paul is averaging 19.6 points and leading the league in assists with an 11.2 average per game.
What the Clippers might miiss most, however, is the hard-driving competitiveness he brings. The Clippers lost a bit of that earlier in the season when J.J. Redick went out with a broken wrist.
“Oh, you’re going to miss it. We miss J.J.,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “J.J.’s one of the more competitive guys on our team as well. Those are the intangibles people don’t see. Clearly we miss J.J.’s drive and his mean toughness, and now the other guy is Chris, and we’re not going to have that. Those are the intangibles beside the play when you lose a Chris Paul or J.J. Redick.”
On the court, the Clippers will make a go with Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford as the starting guards. Crawford has been starting for Redick, who is expected back within about two weeks.
Meanwhile,the Clippers’ bench, already crowded by perhaps the deepest coaching staff in the NBA, one more voice will be heard.
“I’m going to be there every game, sitting out there,” Paul said. “I couldn’t sit out there at San Antonio because I didn’t have a blazer because I wasn’t expecting to get hurt, but I’ll be there every game, every night cheering and talking to the guys, but also being respectful because it’s one of those things where it’s tough to be that voice and that leader when you are in a suit.”
Rivers had a chance to talk to Paul and the the coach quietly enjoyed the reaction Paul had.
“A lot of my friends and family reached out to me,” Paul said. “Everybody was like ‘Everything’s going to be all right, you’ll come back stronger and tougher. I’m one of those people like ‘Right now, it’s not all right,’ honestly, because I want to play and I feel like I need to play.
“You just want to be out there to help your team. Now it’s about doing everything possible day in and day out to get back. And I always say rehab is a lot harder than playing.”
Rivers said the MRI exam result was more of a relief that he didn’t lose his All-Star for longer. Then he went into coaching mode.
“The one thing I told him is we can’t get this injury back, it’s happened,” Rivers said. “Let’s try to look at this that it’s a blessing you’re going to have fresh great legs for the stretch run. That’s the only way you can look at it.”
Guard Maalik Wayns, who been out all season after surgery to repair torn meniscus in his left knee, was activated Wednesday and was in uniform.
The second-year player from Villanova appeared in six games last season for the Clippers after playing in 21 for Philadelphia after being picked up as an undrafted free agent.
Doc Rivers had a simple message for the Clippers on their day off. Something along the lines of the adage of if you pay no heed to history, you’re doomed to repeat it.
So he made his team watch their performance in the 107-88 loss to Phoenix. Twice.
It wasn’t the entire game, it was the Rivers special cuts edition.
“You’re watching your team play and clearly we had a ton of slippage, maybe from not enough practicing with all these days (of games) that we’ve had,” Rivers said. “You could clearly see it, they could see it.
“I do think film’s important, I think it can be overused and I always worry about using it to make me feel better instead of teaching the players. Sometimes as a coach you get angry watching the film . . . but there’s no benefit from it sometimes. I thought yesterday was a benefit for us because we saw a lot of things as a team that we’ve slipped on.”
So as the Clippers prepared to face another defensive challenge from Charlotte Wednesday at Staples Center, Rivers just wanted to extend a few reminders.
“Our transition defense to start with, which has been unbelievable, was horrendous the other night, as bad as it’s been in a long time,’ Rivers said. “We were breaking a lot of habits, and a lot of them came back in that game.”
Rivers is more of a believer in rest than in repeated practices, but he admits searching for the right combination is an elusive pursuit.
So he’s not necessarily going to add more practices.
“No, we’re going to do the same stuff,” he said. “It’s always a balancing act. If someone has a formula, can you please tell me? Because I don’t know it. I don’t think anyone knows it.
“You try to walk the right line. Sometimes you’re on it, sometimes you’re on the wrong side of it and you keep going back and forth and that’s what we’ll do. Practice more, less shootaround, it’s a balancing act and I don’t think anyone’s got it right yet. Or perfect.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers expected Jared Dudley and Eric Bledsoe to be extra amped for their first game against their former team.
“Usually both guys want to get back at their team, even though they liked their team,” Rivers said. “Bled loved it here and Dud loved it in Phoenix. Having said that, it’s that competitive part of each athlete that makes them who they are. It tends to go well for both, usually.
“We’re hoping it goes well for Dud and not for Bled but no doubt your energy is high when you’re playing. I’ve had a couple of those games as a player and you want to play well, I can tell you that.”
Bledsoe was greeted by scores of familiar faces as he strode past the Clippers locker room before the game. He paid tribute to Chris Paul
“When we first traded for him he helped me out from day one,” Bledsoe said. “It’s going to feel like practice again. We know we have to do what we have to do to help our team win.”
Also, Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry is a former Suns coach before the club fired him.
“Yeah, but he can’t score,” Rivers said, smiling. “He could score when he was young. As a coach, you want to win the game, don’t get me wrong. You face your old team, you want to win the game but you have no control over that one. You hope that the players sense that and they want to to win it for them. But I’ve never heard of the player winning for the coach speech yet.”
Eric Bledsoe was in town to face his former team for the first time since the Clippers traded the guard over the summer to the Phoenix Suns.
There was a chance, though, that Bledsoe could have remained a Clipper, even working alongside Chris Paul. Instead, new coach Doc Rivers weighed the options and sent Bledsoe to Phoenix in a three-team deal that netted the Clippers J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.
“I really liked him. I thought he fit a lot of stuff that I do, especially defensively,” Rivers said. “But after sitting down and looking at our books — you’ve got to try and look at your value. If you don’t think you’re going to keep a guy, when is his value the highest?
“Then you have to look at your team and figure out what helps your team in the long run? We clearly lost in the playoffs because we lacked shooting, not because we lacked athleticism. All of those things had to go into that very difficult choice.”
Bledsoe, Paul’s understudy, entered the game averaging 18.4 points and 5.9 assists per game in his first year as a starter. Ironically, Darren Collison, now Paul’s backup, gave up a starting role to join the Clippers.
“He was ready to be a starter, there’s no doubt,” Rivers said of Bledsoe. “We really had only one talk, and I talked to his representatives and they made that very clear. And if it wasn’t starting, it was playing a lot of minutes. That could have happened here, I just didn’t know if it was going to happen here, and I don’t know if he would have been happy or not.
“I think he’s a great kid. I think he would have handled it, but it would have been no fun.”
Paul, a close friend, agreed.
“He’s doing it all right now and I think one of the things about Bled too is how hard he works,” Paul said. This summer was a big summer for him when the trade happened. We used to talk about it all the time. He’s said all the time he’s not a backup in this league, he’s a starter and I think he’s proven that so far.”
How hot is Blake Griffin? In the week of Dec. 16-22, he earned player of the week honors by averaging 26 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in four games. He also went 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) from the free-throw line. In the three games since, Griffin has averaged 31.7 points, 11.7 rebounds has shot 57.1 percent from the field and 78.6 percent from the free throw line.
“His confidence right now is pretty high, and rightfully so” Chris Paul said. “It’s great to see how he’s dominating the game whether it’s jump shots or in the post or on the free-throw line. It’s fun to watch.”
Griffin scored a season-high 40 points Saturday as the Clippers held off Utah.
The Clippers (21-11) enter Monday’s game with Phoenix game with only a 1 1/ 2-game lead over the Suns (18-11), who have won eight of their last 10 and are reaping dividends from the deal that sent Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers to Phoenix in the deal that brought Jared Dudley to the Clipppers. Bledsoe, Paul’s understudy with the Clippers, is averaging 18.4 points 5.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
“I’m excited,” Paul said of the matchup. “I text Bled all the time, even now during the season when I’m watching him play on League Pass, some of the big games he’s had. It’s going to be fun to tell you the truth because Bled is unbelievable right now, and he’s better now than last year, playing with a lot of confidence.”