For Clippers’ Chris Paul, Oklahoma City will always be special

By Vincent Bonsignore

OKLAHOMA CITY – Blake Griffin isn’t the only Clippers player making a homecoming to Oklahoma City against the Thunder in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Griffin, who was born here, grew into a local legend at Oklahoma Christian High School – where his father was a celebrated coach – and later at the University of Oklahoma.

But he’s not the only Clipper with local roots.

Back in 2005 Chris Paul was just beginning his NBA career when the New Orleans Hornets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Needing a home while there arena was being rebuilt, the Hornets spent two seasons in Oklahoma City.

It’s where Paul emerged as an NBA star and it’s a city he remains fond of.

“I always say this about Oklahoma, I’ll always have a special place in my heart,” Paul said. “This is where I won rookie of the year, I played my first two years here. This is where I started becoming a professional.”

Those were trying times for the Hornets, as they split time between two cities. Especially for a young players still trying to find his way.

But the connection they made with Oklahoma City was special.

“It was unreal. I had never seen anything like it,” Paul said. “Obviously I was new to the NBA.

But Oklahoma City made the transition easy by welcoming the Hornets with open arms.

“It was fun, I loved it here.” Paul said. “It was exciting, the fans were unreal.”

And the connection was real, as Paul learned when he put on a basketball camp for kids and was astonished by the turnout.

“I had 450 kids,” he said. “It was a great time here. I had a lot of relationships, people I still keep in contact with.”

In the process, the rest of the NBA was turned on to Oklahoma City’s passion for professional basketball. That was an essential component to the city eventually landing the Seattle Supersonics in 2008.

“I definitely think it had something to do with it,” Paul said. “Because everyone around the league got a chance to see that this city could support an NBA franchise.”

Now Paul returns as the enemy. And while Oklahoma City remains near to his heart, that won’t stop him from taking out the Thunder.

“Once they throw the ball up, it’s basketball,” he said.

 

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NBA OWNERS MEETING TODAY TO DISCUSS DONALD STERLING

OAKLAND – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acted decisively by punishing Clippers owner Donald Sterling Tuesday with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine for making racist comments.

Today, the 29 other owners begin the process of carrying out Silvers end-game objective of forcing Sterling to sell the Clippers.

The owners advisory committee/finance committee, made up of 10 owners, will convene today on a conference call to discuss the next steps in dealing with Sterling, who was caught on tape making offensive remarks toward minorities

Silver immediately pounced on Sterling with the unprecedented punishment, then urged owners to use their power to force Sterling to sell the team – which would require the support of three-fourths of the league’s owners in a vote.

Silver indicated Tuesday he is confident there are enough votes to carry out his hopes, and considering the vast amounts of supportive feedback owners have expressed it seems likely Silver will get his wish

The 10-owner committee consists of: Minnesota’s Miami’s Micky Arison, the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett, New York’s James Dolan, Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio’s Peter Holt, Phoenix’s Robert Sarver, Indiana’s Herb Simon, and Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum.

 

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At the end of a long, historic day the Clippers could breathe again. And focus on basketball

By Vincent Bonsignore

With the world watching, the NBA pounced on Donald Sterling Tuesday.

It did so swiftly, decisively and with unprecedented force when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood at a podium in New York and hammered the Clippers owner with a lifetime ban that permanently disconnects him from any official association with the Clippers or NBA.

Then Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million dollars, the maximum allowed under his jurisdiction. Most importantly, he urged the NBA Board of Governors to unite together in vote to force Sterling to sell the team he’s owned for more than three decades.

“Adam Silver today was fantastic,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He made a decision that had to be made.”
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Clippers Blake Griffin about to join some exclusive company

By Vincent Bonsignore

There might not be three more different basketball players than Blake Griffin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Barkley, but with a few more rebounds Griffin is about to create an interesting link among the trio.

Heading in Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center, Griffin needed 19 more rebounds to join Abdul-Jabbar and Barkley as the only three players to reach six-thousand points, three-thousand rebounds and one-thousand assists by the end of their fourth season.

“Wow, that’s impressive,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who played against Barkley and Abdul-Jabbar.

Most intriguing to Rivers is how distinctly different the trio play the game, with Abdul-Jabbar a 7-foot back-to-the-basket center, Barkley a 6-foot-5 undersized – length anyway – power forward and Griffin an explosive 6-9 power forward.

And yet, all three arrived at a similar place statistically at the same exact time.

“There aren’t three guys that can be more different than those three,” Rivers marveled “There’s not anything similar about any of them, which is amazing. And it’s another lesson that you can do things similar but in different ways.”

Through 63 games, Griffin is averaging a career-high 24.4 points to go along with 9.7 rebounds and 3.6 assist. He and Minnesota’s Kevin Love were the only players to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the month of February.

“It just tells you how great Blake is, is what it does,” Rivers said. “He’s awful young to be reaching milestones.”

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CLIPPERS BIG BABY – GLEN DAVIS – HAD ANOTHER NICKNAME WITH CELTICS

By Vincent Bonsignore

The average fan knows new Clippers forward Glen Davis by his nickname, “Big Baby.”

But Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Davis for four years with the Boston Celtics and was reunited with him this week when the Clippers signed him to beef up their front court, has other nicknames for the 6-foot-9 big man.

He’s called me a lot of things,” Davis said, laughing, while remembering his days under Rivers in Boston.

Like, for instance, Lazarus – a reference to Davis’ penchant for getting knocked to the floor, rolling around in pain only to miraculously rise back up to live another play.

It became a such running joke with the Celtics that Rivers readily admits there were times Davis tumbled to the court in practice and Rivers ordered the team to just keep on scrimmaging, knowing full well the injury wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed and that Davis would eventually pick himself back up.

Normally, that is exactly what happened.

Except for the time Davis took a blow to the head in a playoff game and suffered a real injury.

Much to the surprise of Rivers and his teammates.

At the time it happened it was pretty serious. But nearly four years later it’s actually a pretty funny story.

The setting was Orlando during the 2009-10 Eastern Conference finals and Davis had just taken a wicked elbow to the head by then Magic center Dwight Howard – the force of which sent Davis crashing to the ground.

I was out,” Davis remembered.

Rivers, though, thought it was just another of Davis’ typical over-acting jobs. And knowing the high stakes of the game, Rivers screamed at Davis to pick himself up.

If you watch the video, you can literally see Rivers angrily gesturing at Davis to get up and join his teammates on the other end of the court.

A dazed and confused Davis could hear his coach yelling at him as he struggled to gather himself.

My eyes are rolling around, I’m completely out of it, and all I hear is (Rivers) screaming ‘Get your %$%$%$%$% &%&%$%%$% up. Get your $#$%$%&%% &&%&%% up!!!!’” Davis laughingly remembered.

Somehow, someway, Davis pulled himself up and tried to run to the other end of the court. Only his legs, head and senses weren’t cooperating.

Everything was moving in slow motion,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, Rivers kept screaming at him. But try as Davis did to run, it wasn’t happening. And after taking few stumbling steps, he literally collapsed into the arms of a referee near the Celtics bench.

Only then did Rivers realize this time, Davis was really hurt.

And as I slumped over (Rivers) was like “oh #$%$$#$.” Davis recalled.

Davis wasn’t acting. In fact he suffered a concussion.

He felt pretty bad,” Davis said.

No hard feelings, of course. In fact, Davis cites his strong relationship with Rivers for choosing to sign with the Clippers after getting bought out by the Orlando Magic.

But man, I haven’t thought about that in years,” Davis said. “And now that I think about it, he owes me an apology. I was knocked out, man. And he thought I was faking”

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FIVE THINGS TO WATCH BETWEEN CLIPPERS/MEMPHIS

By Vincent Bonsignore

vincent.bonsignoire@dailynews.com

twitter.com@DailyNewsVinny

With the Clippers opening the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, here are five quick things to keep an eye on:

1. CAN THE CLIPPERS HEALTH HOLD UP

The Clipper’s have battled through injuries all season, some big, some small, but a constant issue all year. They come into the postseason relatively healthy, although Chauncey Billups is still battling leg problems and Caron Butler’s knee has been a sore spot for some time. Billups, especially, is a concern early on and his minutes will be monitored as he works his way back into shape. He returned after an eight-game absence Tuesday against the Portland Trailblazers, and it will still take time to round into form. The Clippers have shown they can win without their veteran leader – remember, the beat the Grizzlies in seven games last year without Billups playing a game – but they are a much better team with him healthy and playing well, especially this time of year.

 

2. CAN THE GRIZZLIES SCORE ENOUGH TO KEEP UP

Yes, Memphis benefited from the mid-season trade that sent leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto and brought Tayshaun Prince to the Grizzlies. Defensively, they are a better team and the ball moves better offensively. Putting it in the basket has been a challenge, though, and as they showed in a loss to the Clippers at home last Saturday, their lack of firepower is a major issue. Gay, for all the concern about how much he was getting paid, was a consistent scorer and the Grizzlies might learn the hard way his production isn’t easily made up for in the playoffs.

3. CAN DeANDRE JORDAN MATCH UP WITH MARC GASOL

The Clippers big man had one of his most efficient games of the year against the Grizzlies last Saturday with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. If the Clippers can get that kind of production from him in the first round, they should soar into the semifinals. The problem is Jordan hasn’t reached the point where he can string together performances like that on a consistent basis, too often playing well one night but then vanishing the next. The Clippers have won a franchise-best 56 games dealing with those inconsistencies, but can they win four out of the next seven against the Grizzlies is he falls into that trend?

4. CAN THE CLIPPERS PLAY SMALL BALL?

We all know Lob City leads the league in highlight plays. Between the dunks of Blake Griffin and Jordan and the cross-over moves of Jamal Crawford and the all-oop passing of Chris Paul, they are a television sports producer’s dream. And while that’s all well and good in the regular season, winning playoff games comes down to focus, execution and an ability to make the most out of every offensive and defensive sequence. Do the Clippers have the maturity and fortitude to grind out each possession, execute their sets precisely and take care of the ball? Conversely, do they have it in them play after play after play to communicate, rotate and help each other defensively? If so, they should win this series easily.

5. IS BLAKE GRIFFIN READY FOR PRIMETIME?

We all remember Griffin limping around last year as the Clippers beat Memphis in seven games before falling to the San Antonio Spurs in a four-game sweep. It didn’t take a doctor to understand Griffin was playing at less than 80 percent capacity, and that is pushing it. This year he goes into the playoffs as healthy as can be, and presumably ready to another step on his way to stardom. Standing in his way are the physical, aggressive Grizzlies, who like to muck games up and take opponents out of their game. Griffin has made strides keeping his emotions in check this year; especially when it comes to his issues with the physical liberties opponents take on him and what he perceives as indifference from the referees. That maturity will be tested big time against the Grizzlies, who will try to get into his head. If he can rise above it he and the Clippers should be fine. If not, the edge goes to Memphis.

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Clippers stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have meeting to get on same page

By Vincent Bonsignore

Vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com

Twitter.com/@DailyNewsVinny

The last straw for the Clippers came in a home loss to Indiana nine days ago. April Fool’s, to be exact.

It was the Clippers third straight loss to finish a near month-long stretch in which they had muddled about no better than a .500 team.

Everything they’d built during the best regular-season in club history was on the verge of collapse. Home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, any sort of momentum heading in the postseason – all of it was slipping right through their fingers.

Worse, there was speculation their best two players – Blake Griffin and Chris Paul – were at odds.

It was a crossroads, to be sure.

And Paul and Griffin both sensed it, which is why they decided to sit down and talk to each other.

The gist of the conversation being the Clippers fate rested on their shoulders, and that their actions from that point on would set the tone for the entire team.

“We talked about how we always need to be on the same page. We always need to be communicating,” Griffin said. “Even if we might not have a good offensive game we can still contribute defensively and by passing the ball and in how we talk and how we lead during timeouts. Things like that, we can always do well. We always have control over those things.”

Paul agreed.

“It definitely starts with me and Blake,” Paul said “On the offensive end and the defensive end. When me and him are on the same page everyone else has no choice but to fall in line. Me and Blake realize we have to bring the energy every night and everyone else will feed off on it.”

The Clippers have won three straight games since the meeting, their defense picking up and their offense playing smoother and at a more up tempo pace in the process.

And at the perfect time, with four games remaining and a chance to grab home-court advantage from the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

“We said enough is enough,” Paul said. “We were tired of losing and we didn’t want to back into the playoffs and we realized we controlled that. Not the coaches, not the media not anyone else. And we decided to pick it up.”

The key being, win or lose the Clippers want it to be on their terms.

“If we lose it can never be for a lack of effort,” Griffin said. “It has to be because the other team played better than us and that has to be our focus. To play with a lot of intensity and pace.”

The Clippers have done that the last three games.

Now they hope it continues.

 

 

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Chauncey Billups out again for Clippers; vows to be back before playoffs

By Vincent Bonsignore

Vincent.Bonsignore@dailynews.com

Twitter.com/@DailyNewsVinny

No one needs to tell Chauncey Billups how important the next eight days are to the Clippers. With five games to play in that span – including Wednesday’s home game against Minnesota – and the Clippers still in a fight with Memphis and Denver in the Western Conference playoff race they’ve reached a critical stage of the regular season.

Billups knows that, and he understands the difference he can make when he’s on the floor with the Clippers.

On the other hand, the aggravated right groin strain he suffered March 27 against New Orleans still isn’t quite right, and with the Clippers eyeing a long playoff run he knows he needs to be as healthy as possible when the postseason opens in 10 days.

Which is why he reluctantly didn’t suit up against the Timberwolves Wednesday and why he still won’t pinpoint a definite return, other than to say he’ll be ready when the Clippers open their first-round playoff series.

“Oh yeah,” Billups said. “I’ll be back before then.”

But until he’s certain he won’t aggravate the injury again and jeopardize his availability for the postseason, Billups won’t push it.

“We’re just taking it day by day, testing it, pushing it,” said Billups, who missed his sixth straight game.

That said, Billups practiced Tuesday with his teammates and continues to ratchet up his activity. His groin withstood the added work load, which included light scrimmaging, and he reported no issues by Wednesday evening.

The goal now is to carry that comfort level through another workout and another day of assessment.

At that point, a return is likely.

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Clippers Grant Hill: The 40-year-old defensive stopper

NEW YORK – Grant Hill was sitting on the bench, minding his own business, watching New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony going off on the Clippers just like everyone else at Madison Square Garden for most of Sunday afternoon.

Then Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro summoned Hill from the bench with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter – and with Anthony sitting on 38 points – and asked him to do something about it.

That’s a tall order for anyone, let alone a 40-year-old veteran like Hill, whose battled injury issues all year as he tries to establish a role with the Clippers.

Only Hill isn’t your regular 40-year-old, and as the Clippers discovered Sunday he still has enough savvy and guile to be a factor.

With Hill pulling out every trick in the book, he hounded, harassed and denied Anthony the remainder of the game. The result: Antony took just two more shots and scored only four more points as Hill and the Clippers got things under control in a 102-88 victory.

Afterward, his impressed teammates marveled at Hill’s contribution.

“I tell him all the time I will not be 40 years old and playing in this league,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “I wish I could but I can’t. And it just shows so much about Grant, just his heart and his determination and always staying ready.”

Hill understood the nearly impossible challenge of stopping Anthony, but he relied on past experiences and veteran guile to try and disrupt him as much as possible.

“You just try to do things to make it difficult and you have to have selective memory because he hits shots,” Hill said “You have to be able to move onto the next play. He’s a great player and I enjoy the challenge.”

It’s nothing unusual for Hill, whose spent his entire career typically drawing the opponent’s best scorer.

His teammates are well aware, having gone against him enough over the years to understand how many problems he creates. When Hill was in Phoenix he’d typically guard Paul. He did the same with Chauncey Billups as well.

“Steve Nash never guarded me. Grant Hill did,” Paul remembered, “And Chauncey told me when he was in Denver Grant did a great job on him.

“He’s just smart. He never rests. He’s just always bothering you and messing with you,” Paul continued. “He understands how you can’t give a guy – especially the best scorer in the league – a steady diet of the same defense.”

vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com @DailyNewsVinny

 

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SOME CLIPPERS NOTES

By Vincent Bonsignore

MIAMI – Like it or not, Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe has 13 new coaches pulling him in all sorts of directions now that he’s been selected to participate in the Slam Dunk at the NBA All-Star game in Houston.

Bledsoe was officially added to the six-player field on Thursday night, and by Friday he pretty much heard from all 13 of his Clippers teammates, all of whom have some guidance on what he should do.

“Everybody’s trying to give me some advice,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody has some pretty good ideas so we’ll see how it goes.”

Some suggestions are better than others, of course.

For instance, one teammate suggested Bledsoe jump over Clipper Darrell, the team’s long-time, unofficial greatest fan.

That probably isn’t going to happen.

One player who won’t give much advice is Chauncey Billups, whose dunking days are pretty much behind him.

“I’ll leave that to the other guys,” Billups said, laughing. “But I’m interested in what he’s going to do.”

EVERYONE BACK, EVEN JAMAL CRAWFORD

By mid-day Friday it was becoming more clearer Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin would be cleared to play against the Heat, but there was still some concern Jamal Crawford would need more time to tend to his injured right shoulder.

By the time the team arrived at Miami’s American Airlines Arena, though, Crawford was feeling well enough to play after missing the last two games.

“The shoulder loosens up on him then it tightens up,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s gonna give it a go tonight. I don’t know when he gets out there how he’ll feel, but he wants to get out there and play.”

The same was the case for Paul, Billups and Griffin as the Clippers finally had their entire roster together for the first time all year.

“There’s some limited minutes and restrictions (on guys) and we’re trying to figure it out because it’s a big list,” Del Negro said.

But the good news is, for one night at least everyone was available.

“Now we’ll just monitor it and see how it goes,” Del Negro said.

SO FAR SO GOOD ON NEW YORK

With the New York area getting hit with a major snow storm Friday and Saturday flights into the area being canceled, there was concern the Clippers game against the New York Knicks would be affected.

As of Friday, though, everything looked good on the Clippers end. They’ll travel to Newark, New Jersey Saturday, and seem hopeful the game will get it.

“Everything looks good,” Del Negro said.

TURIAF GETS HIS RING

Clippers forward Ronny Turiaf, who played with the Heat last year, was scheduled to get his 2012 NBA Championship ring during a pre-game ceremony.

“I’m happy for Ronny,” Billups said. “There was no greater feeling in my life than winning a championship.”

HEAT RUNNING A TEAMPATURE

A near team-wide flu bug ravaged the Miami Heat roster and nearly left them severely shorthanded Friday.

As it turns out, it was bad but not devastating.

While Ray Allen and Chris Bosh were sidelined, Dwyane Wade was able to play.

All three missed the Heat morning shoot around, and only Wade was able to feel good enough to suit up.

Vincent.bonsignore@DailyNews.com twitter.com@DailyNewsVinny

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