A FIRST FOR THE CLIPPERS + A GRIFFIN UPDATE

By Vincent Bonsignore

MIAMI – There is a first time for everything and for the Clippers Thursday that meant finally having their full roster available for a practice this year.

It took nearly half a season and it occurred 3,000 miles away from Los Angeles in Miami, but for the first time all year everyone on the team. shared the same floor, the same drills and in all but one case the same full-court scrimmage.

“All the way in February. That’s crazy,” Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. “But it felt good getting those fouls and getting those juices flowing. It was fun.”

Blake Griffin agreed.

“It was kind of weird to have everyone out there,” Griffin said. “But it’s nice; it’s nice to have a full team.”

Billups has missed all but three games this year recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, Chris Paul has sat out the last eight with a bruised knee, Griffin the last two with a hamstring strain and Jamal Crawford sat out Wednesday’s game in Orlando with a shoulder injury.

And before them, Grant Hill was dealing with a knee injury earlier in the year.

Add it all together it equals an injury ravaged team that’s never had its entire roster available at any one given time.

That figures to change soon with Billups looking pretty good for tonight’s game against the Heat, Griffin feeling much better and considered a game-time decision and Paul and Crawford’s status being decided today as well.

The key is all four should be back sooner rather than later, and the Clippers are anxious to see what exactly they’re all about with a full roster.

“I think we all kind of know how good we can be,” Billups said.

Now they want to find out, and it looks like that day is near.

GRIFFIN BEING CAREFUL

Although Griffin practiced Thursday he didn’t participate in the full-court scrimmage session.

“But I did a lot of half-court stuff,” he said.

And felt good doing so.

The key now is how he feels when he wakes up today.

“I just want to make sure it’s not more sore than it is today,” he said.

If not, he could return against the Heat.

“Yes, there is a chance I’ll play.”

 

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Billups returns to Orlando a year after injury. And a Griffin update

By Vincent Bonsignore

ORLANDO – You’ll have to excuse Clippers guard Chauncey Billups for feeling a bit skittish about walking into the Amway Center arena in Orlando on Wednesday.

“Back to the scene of the crime,” Billups said, his feet immersed in a bucket of ice as he sat under a basket following the Clippers morning shoot around here.

He was talking about suffering a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury at Amway Center last year, not far; actually, from here he sat.

But it gets even eerier.

Billups injured the Achilles exactly a year to the day of his first visit back Wednesday.

“And what makes it even weirder is, we came from D.C. last year too,” Billups said, adding one more ominous connection.

So yeah, Billups felt a little weird Wednesday, although he made it a point to tell the Clippers equipment team to make sure they didn’t give him the same locker from last year as well.

That would have been too much.

Billups will not play again tonight – he’s missed all but three games this year coming back from the Achilles injury and a bout with tendinitis in his left foot – but he will go through a team workout Thursday in which he will play some full court with teammates and hopes to be back soon after.

“Tomorrow I’ll be able to compete, get up and down the floor and see how I feel,” Billups said.

Needless to say, it’s been frustrating for Billups watching the Clippers struggle without himself and Chris Paul recently. The Clippers take a three-game losing streak into the Magic game and have lost seven of their last nine.

“It’s hard because I know even if I played right now I could help,” Billups said.  “But I’m not quite ready. And I know we need a little (help) so it’s hard to sit out when we’re struggling.”

GRIFFIN OUT

Although Blake Griffin seemed to be moving around a little better on his strained left hamstring Wednesday morning, he will not play tonight against the Magic.

Griffin was scratched from Monday’s game in Washington D.C. moments before tip-off, but he hopes to return Friday when the Clippers play in Miami against the Heat.

vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com twitter.com@DailyNewsVinny

 

Vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com twitter.com@DailyNewsVinny

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Turnovers sabotaging the Clippers + Griffin update

Prior to the Clippers loss to Washington Monday Lamar Odom offered his analysis on the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers the day before.

“Turnovers,” Odom said, referring to two critical 49ers miscues.

“Doesn’t matter what sport, what level or the stakes of the game,” Odom said. “If you don’t take care of the ball, it’s going to hurt you.”

He might as well have been talking about the Clippers and their recent 3-game losing skid.

Back-to-back losses to the Boston Celtics and Wizards were directly the result of the Clippers inability to secure the ball, specifically late in games when points and possessions are so critical.

Clean that aspect up and the Clippers could very well be looking at a winning streak.

As it is, it’s doomed them.

The Clippers turned it over 20 times against the Wizards Monday, including five over the final five minutes of a close game.

“I think our turnovers hurt us,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “Twenty’s too many against a team like this, especially with John (Wall) and how fast he is, getting down there and making plays. We really have to take care of the ball and value our possessions.”

But they’ve been preaching that same sermon for more than a week now, and with little improvement.

It doesn’t help starting point guard Chris Paul has been hurt and out of the lineup, an absence particularly felt late in games. But the Clippers have accentuated the issue with sheer carelessness.

“We just turned it over. Guys trying to do much and end up turning it over then they would get fast breaks, which end in an easy baskets,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “…We were trying to make plays we couldn’t make and ended up turning it over. It’s tough for us to close games out right now.”

NO WORD ON BLAKE:

The Clippers had the day off Tuesday in Orlando, with Griffin getting therapy on the left hamstring strain that kept him out of the loss to the Wizards.

He is listed as day to day, and his status for Wednesday’s game against the Magic will likely be determined at the team’s late-morning shootaround.

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Eric Bledsoe addresses trade rumors – sort of

By Vincent Bonsignore

WASHINGTON D.C. – As if Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe doesn’t have enough on his hands trying to hold things down until Chris Paul returns from his knee injury – and that included playing all 24 minutes of the second half Sunday against the Celtics – now comes a report the Clippers have talked to the Celtics about a Bledsoe and Caron Butler trade for Kevin Garnett.

The timing of the report is odd considering Paul remains sidelined with a knee bruise, having missed eight straight games and 11 of the last 13, and Bledsoe is literally the only healthy point guard for the Clippers.

But with the trade deadline approaching Feb. 21, the Clippers in a bit of a tailspin and the Celtics contemplating blowing their roster up and going into full rebuild mold, it was almost inevitable.

Bledsoe insisted Monday before the Clippers played the Washington Wizards the trade talk is not interfering with his job focus.

“I’m just focused on the Washington Wizards,” Bledsoe said before Monday’s game in the nation’s capitol. “Just focused on the Wizards and trying to get back on a winning track.”

It was a clever way of downplaying the reports, but the reality is Bledsoe knows full well his name is out there in trade talks. To deal with it, he boils his focal point down to the most minimal level.

It’s all he can do.

“It’s what I can control,” Bledsoe said. “So I’ll focus on the Wizard’s and trying to get back on the winning track.”

Vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com twitter.com@DailyNewsVinny

 

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Thoughts on the Clippers’ reported interest in Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett, #5 of the Boston Celtics, shoots a jumper in front of Caron Butler, #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers, during a 106-77 Clipper win — the team’s 15th straight — at Staples Center on Dec. 27, 2012. The Clippers are said to be interested in a trade for Garnett that would include sending Butler to Boston. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


By Vincent Bonsignore

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The convergence of events leading up to the Clippers visit to Boston to play the Celtics Sunday essentially made it inevitable trade rumors would begin circulating between the two teams.

On one hand you have a Clippers club stumbling through their biggest skid of the season – after Sunday’s loss to Boston they’ve dropped six of eight games – while sliding down the Western Conference leader board.

On the other, the aging, expensive Celtics recently lost point guard Rajon Rondo to a season-ending knee injury, sending an already unbalanced season sideways.

With the Clippers potentially looking for help to get back on track, the Celtics contemplating blowing their roster up and going into full rebuild mode and the trade deadline approaching Feb. 21, the game of connect the dots is in full swing.

Which led to the report that surfaced Sunday in the Sporting News indicating the Clippers had inquired about Celtics’ forward Kevin Garnett.

According to the story, the Clippers are dangling point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Caron Butler for the 37-year-old KG, who has two more years on his contract beyond this season worth $23 million.

From a money standpoint, the deal works under the salary cap rules as the combination of Bledsoe and Butler’s contracts line up accordingly to KG’s number.

From a practical standpoint, there are some holes.

First and foremost Garnett has a no-trade clause and can veto any deal. And while the thought of playing for a championship contender is enticing, is it enough to uproot his family and move across the country halfway through the season?

Secondly, even if the Celtics were serious about throwing in the towel on the Garnett/Paul Pierce era – and their four-game win streak without Rondo has people in Boston re-thinking that idea – would Bledsoe and Butler represent fair value for Garnett?

You have to believe the Celtics could do better than that package if they made KG available.

Both factors weigh heavily against Garnett moving west.

Meanwhile, from the Clippers perspective adding Garnett would obviously be an upgrade to the frontcourt.

But it comes with some risk.

With the Clippers, the bulk of Garnett’s minutes would come at center as he technically plays the same position as Blake Griffin.

That means center DeAndre Jordan would go to the bench, and that represents a serious no-confidence vote from the Clippers to their young big man and a devastating blow to Jordan’s psyche.While Jordan’s minutes have been dwindling recently, the Clippers would risk losing him altogether by benching him

And that’s something they must take into account.

In addition, considering Chris Paul’s health status – he’s missed seven straight games with a knee injury and 10 out of the last 12 – how practical is it for the Clippers to move Bledsoe, one of the more capable back-up point guards in the league?

Anyone who saw Paul limp through the playoffs last year understands keeping him healthy for an entire year is a challenge. He’s one of the all-time great competitors in the NBA, but at 6-foot, 175-pounds he’s particularly susceptible to wear and tear.

And finally, does it make sense for the Clippers to take on the two years; $23 million remaining on Garnett’s contract after this season considering it will take him beyond his 40th birthday?

That doesn’t seem logical to me.

Not saying the Clippers aren’t open to improving their roster at the deadline, because they are.

And while they remain tight-lipped about their deadline plans, all indications point to a level of interest in exploring ways to advance the roster.

But this trade seems unlikely.

At this point their best option is patience and waiting for Paul and Chauncey Billups to return.

When they do, the Clippers will have the deepest roster in the NBA. And as their 17-game win streak in December proved, when they have their best players available they are one of the best teams in the NBA.

It might not be the most exciting plan, but it is the most prudent.

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

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The story behind Jamal Crawford’s face mask

By Vincent Bonsignore

BOSTON – When it comes to the mask Clippers’ guard Jamal Crawford wore Sunday to protect his fractured nose against the Boston Celtics, this wasn’t the case of modern medicine or technology ruling the day.

Just an example of good-old fashion ingenuity.

And while it wasn’t on par with the NASA control room devising instruments on the fly to help get Apollo 13 home safely, Clippers trainer Jason Powell deserves plenty of credit for coming up with the face contraption that allowed Crawford to play Sunday with some peace of mind.

“He made it out of scratch,” marveled Crawford, who was so unsure he’d come up with suitable protection it wasn’t until he arrived at the arena Sunday morning before he decided if he could play or not.

That he did is a tribute to Powell, the longtime Clippers trainer who built the facemask between practice Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

With the game falling on a weekend and Crawford fracturing his nose Friday night in Toronto, there was little time or opportunity to seek out professional help from a medical supply company. That meant Powell and Crawford had to put their heads together to come up with a gadget that protected Crawford’s nose but also provided ample breathing room and didn’t distract him from playing basketball.

The final result was something straight out of Hannibal Lecctor and the Silence of the Lambs, but it did the job and that’s all that counts.

“I’ve never had anything on my face before, but it feels OK, Jason did a great job,” Crawford said.

Crawford was skeptical based on what he was working with the previous night.

“We were messing around with stuff last night and I didn’t have this,” Crawford said, pointing to the facemask. “I can show you pictures of the other stuff, but it didn’t look like this.”

By the time he arrived at TD Gardens Sunday, though, the new and improved mask was at his locker ready for us. Thanks to Powell, of course.

“He’s gifted,” Crawford said.

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Clippers beat Thunder 92-77 Clinch Playoff Berth

Some reaction to the Clippers win over Oklahoma City tonight, their third in four meetings with the Thunder:

Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro
RE: Tonight’s win against the Thunder
“I thought our bench did an overall great job. I thought our defense in the second half held the Thunder down. [Oklahoma] missed some shots that they usually make, but we were scrambling and contesting shots. Overall, it was just a solid team win for us.”

Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro
RE: Confidence
“This game was all about confidence. When you beat new teams with a new group, I think it just builds your confidence. I was pleased with the team effort tonight. It’s going to be difficult enough to get all of these guys enough minutes in terms of making them satisfied. But if the ultimate goal is to win, you have to work your minutes.”

Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro
RE: Defense against the Thunder
“If you give Oklahoma a steady diet, guys like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and even James Harden are going to make you pay for it. They missed some shots, but I think that we did a good job defending.”

Clippers Head Coach Vinny Del Negro
RE: The play of Nick Young
“I was pleased with Nick [Young] because he didn’t settle with his first couple of shots. In the second half, we made some adjustments on their coverage, and I figured that Nick would be open and he was able to knock down those shots.”

Clippers Center DeAndre Jordan
Re: Quality Win Tonight
“We came out and we were clicking tonight, defensively and offensively. Guys came in and stepped it up big tonight. Nick [Young] came out and had a good game for us. We just played as a team and got the win, so I’m excited.”

Clippers Center DeAndre Jordan
Re: Clinching first playoff berth since 2006
“I’ve never been to the playoffs, and a lot of guys on this team haven’t either. We’re excited. The fans and the franchise have been waiting for something like this to happen for a while. We’re really excited to be in the playoffs, but that’s not the only thing we want. We still have a goal for this team, and this is just one of the steps towards it.”

Clippers Guard Chris Paul
Re: Quality Win
“This is a good win for us. We wanted to clinch a playoff berth tonight, especially here at home in front of the home crowd.”

Clippers Guard Chris Paul
Re: Stretch run in the Western Conference Playoff Race
“It’s going to be fun and exciting regardless, when it comes to the West. There’s so much battling and jocking for position right now. I think for us, we just want to keep winning games and see how high we can move up the standings.”
Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks
RE: The difference between the first and second half
“It’s easy; we didn’t make our shots in the second half. Give them credit; they did a good job of defending. They got hot from the three point line and we missed shots and free throws, they played well the second half.”

Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks
RE: What they wanted to do in the second half
“We would have liked to see a combination of shots and drives to the bucket. We need to mix it up and get to the line, we are an attack team and an aggressive team. We usually are a high field goal percentage team and tonight we just didn’t make shots. They got better looks, but we missed shots that we normally make.”

Thunder Guard James Harden
RE: The Clippers zone defense
“We just couldn’t make our shots. Shots that we usually make were not going in. We missed a couple open threes and a couple easy layups. Their zone was effective to some point, but I think it was more of us just missing shots.”

Thunder Guard James Harden
RE: Nick Young making three wide open threes
“He was a killer to us tonight. We played hard and we were in control for most of the game and then we gave up three 3s to a good shooter and when he knocks them down it is a momentum changer. They hit some big shots and made some good plays.”

Thunder Forward Kevin Durant
RE: The importance of momentum going into the playoffs
“It is very important. Playoffs begin two days after the season ends so it is very important for us. We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back. It is not time to panic now, it’s time to win the next game.”

Thunder Forward Kevin Durant
RE: Improved Clippers play
“When you add three All-Star caliber players to a team, of course they are going to be good. It’s not like they just got better from last year, they added three All-Stars. When you get guys like that in one summer of course you are going to make a jump.”

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CLIPPERS CLOSE THE BOOK ON A TOUGH MARCH

The Clippers didn’t so much drag themselves to the finish line as they sprinted through it.

The most taxing month in NBA history came to a close Friday, a grueling, unforgiving 20-game in 31-night March marathon that at various points had their playoff hopes fading and their coaches’ job in jeopardy.

But as they blew past March into April Saturday they did so with a convincing 105-96 win over the Utah Jazz to complete their first five-game winning streak in more than five years.

The impressive push over the last week was the ideal antidote for the Clippers tired legs and weary minds. And as March turns into April they are beginning to see an end-game to this crazy regular season.

That, coupled with a tense playoff race in which only four games separates the third seed from missing the playoffs altogether is the carrot the Clippers hope pulls their exhausted bodies through the final 14 games of the season.

Nine of the 14 are on the road, with four coming on the second night of back-to-backs.

“It should,” said Clippers guard Chris Paul. “As you can see the Western Conference is bunched together and right now all wins are valuable.”

With the Jazz victory being no less impactful then any that might follow.

The Clippers were playing their fifth game in six nights and second in the last two. And of course, their 20th in the last 31 days.

“This was one of those games you just had to find a way,” Paul said. “Playing last night and having the day just to sit around and chill. I was talking to Chauncey (Billups) and I was like man, you could tell this was number 20. But you have to figure out a way to win.”

Clippers forward Blake Griffin agrees.

“You could definitely feel it,” Griffin said. “The road trip. Coming back and playing however many back-to-backs we played then three straight, you could definitely feel it. It was taxing.”

Paul finished with 26 points while Blake Griffin added 24 points and seven rebounds.

Randy Foye added 17 points and Nick Young had 13 off the bench as the Clippers finished with their first five-game winning streak since November, 2006.

The Clippers finished the month with an 11-9 record.

Follow me @DailyNewsVinny

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SOME THOUGHTS FROM CLIPPERS WIN

It’s sometimes difficult to figure out just how badly the Clippers want this.

They let a wounded, fractured Portland Trail Blazers team minus All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge troll into Staples Center Friday and push them to the brink before pulling out razor-thin 98-97 victory.

They allowed a team with fading playoff hopes and missing All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge drop a 15-0 run on them in the second quarter and a 19-11 run in the fourth quarter to force the Clippers to play catch-up all night.

But amid a game-long struggle they found a way, mapping out a path to a win they had to have.

Chris Paul, probing in the closing seconds to find an advantageous matchup, got singled up with Portland forward J.J. Hickson and dove to the basket to bank in a tough one-handed layup in with five seconds remaining to put the Clippers up 98-87.

On the other end the Clippers collapsed on Portland guard Wesley Matthews, forcing him into a desperate heave and held on for the victory.

Paul finished with 20 points and 14 assists, no points bigger than his last two in which Hickson rotated to him off a pick and roll immediately blew past him for the winning basket.

“I thought they might trap,” Paul said. “But once I saw (Portland guard) Raymond Felton go away I saw an opportunity thre and I just tried to attack and get to the rim.”

Prior to all that, Randy Foye pulled the Clippers out of a 2-point hole with his fifth three-pointer with 47.8 to give the Clippers a 96-95 lead. Jamal Crawford answered with a jumper to put Portland ahead again, but that just set the stage for Paul.

Foye and Blake Griffin each had 20 points, with Griffin adding 13 rebounds as the Clippers won their third in a row.

The art of elevating their game to another level is something the Clippers are engaged in a desperate search for. It’s a must-have skill but an elusive find given the fast-paced schedule, the lack of practice time and a roster that’s changed dramatically throughout the last four months.

For the time being they will settle for a comfortable level of consistency and enough moments of dominance to piece together the necessary victory total to achieve their playoff aspirations.

“It obviously wasn’t our best performance,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But we’ll take it.”

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EVANS SHOCKED AT FINE

By Vincent Bonsignore
Staff Writer

The next time Clippers forward Reggie Evans responds to an inside joke among teammates he’s going to take a good look around who might be watching – and definitely check the NBA fine scale to see how much it might cost him.

Evan was docked $25,000 dollars by the league Friday for making an obscene gesture during Monday’s home against New Orleans.

Essentially he was caught flipping the bird to someone.

Evans admits he did it, but wants to make it clear it was not directed at a fan as has been widely speculated on the internet, specifically Deadspin.com.

Or as Evans described Deadspin, “a bogus website.”

“Since I’ve been here I’ve had 19, 20 thousand fans cheering my name. And out of that 19 or thousand I’ve not had one person saying something negative to me,” Evans said Friday. “I think if I would have (really) done something you all would have picked it up on it and asked me about it after the game.”

Instead, Evans explained, he was responding to a running inside joke he has with teammates DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.

The three teammates call each other names during practice and games – typically cupcake or cheesecake – and anyone whose spent time in the Clippers locker room can vouch for that.

When Evans completed a layup in traffic and drew a foul against the Hornets, Jordan and Griffin shouted from the bench, “Good play, cupcake.”

Evans responded by discreetly using his middle finger to scratch his upper lip.

“And if you see, I’m looking at them. If you look at the film I’m looking at them, that’s who I’m looking at,” Evans said. “It’s an indie joke, is what’s going on. We’ve got a tight team.

I’m smiling. I’m looking at DJ and Blake. Like, ‘ohhh I can’t want to get on the bench and get back at you all. But I can’t right now because I’m on the court.”

Evans said he will appeal to the fine, if anything to make sure everyone understands he was not doing it in a mean-spirited way.

“I’m not going to sit up here and disrespect the game,” Evans said.

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