Greatness in Progress
They may be known as Lob City, but the Clippers will have you know they’re ‘a complete team.’
And if you needed more convincing that fate is at play with this team, consider how perfectly Jamal Crawford has fit in off of the bench and what he’s brought to the Clippers after a disappointing season in Portland.
“It’s very cool. It’s very…rewarding, but we’re not where we want to be yet,” Crawford says of the ride in L.A. thus far. “We’re on the path. There’ll be highs and lows in the season, obviously, but we’ll weather the storm and try to get better.”
While Crawford has led the second unit, he points out that Billups has missed most of this season and that Grant Hill hasn’t played yet. And while the Clippers are catching praise around the League as they rattle off this win streak—Magic Johnson gave the red jerseys down the hall his Christmas Day blessing, saying that they’re good enough to go to the Finals this year—they can still get better.
“We’re in a really good spot. We feel like we can get better when we get guys healthy,” Crawford says. “We get Chauncey back, we get Grant back, we’re in a pretty good spot. We’re not satisfied, but it’s come a long way. We weren’t all here for the growth of that but hopefully we’re here for what’s left.”
Billups was there last year, though forced to watch when he tore his ACL, then suffered a bone bruise at the start of this season.
“We’ve got a lot of talent in this locker room and more than talent, just the mentality. We expect to win and those are things that have changed, for sure,” Billups says. Add the Finals MVP experience Billups has and 18 years of experience in Hill and this team can take on another element in the second half of the season and in the Playoffs.
“Just not relying on athletic ability, being able to outsmart teams, defensive presence will be a little better,” Billups says of what he and Hill’s return could bring. “Overall, offensively we’ll be a little smarter. I think we can take another step.”
From the outside looking in, Randy Foye thinks that step has been taken. Foye spent last season backing up Paul and splitting time with Billups and Mo Williams in the backcourt, before he and Williams ended up with the Jazz in Utah. Foye had 25 points against his former team on Friday night, missing a three at the buzzer that would have ended the win streak at 15. Like so many others, he says the bench is a big difference maker.
“You’ve got Jamal, Lamar Odom, a tremendous bench. You’ve got guys that should be playing that probably won’t be playing once Chauncey gets back in there,” he says. “They’re definitely much deeper.”
There’s so much there that wasn’t last year. Paul told GQ that last year when Pau Gasol patted him on the head in a game it didn’t sit with him well.
“We call that sonnin‘, ” he told the magazine. “Like when I take Lil Chris to the bathroom, I’ll walk with my hand on his head. That’s my son. You know what I mean? I understand that Gasol is that tall, but don’t do to me what I do to my son.”
On November 28, Barnes did the same thing to Minnesota’s undersized PG, JJ Barea. It’s a small gesture (no pun intended), but Barnes brings an edge to the Clippers that they didn’t have a year ago. Each guy, six through 12 brings something special.
“Matt Barnes has been a real key for them,” Gentry says. “The jump that (Eric) Bledsoe has made from last year to this year has been pretty phenomenal. Defensively, he’s a pest all over the court. He can guard 1s, 2s…those guys have come up with big plays, hustle plays.”
They’re solid one through 12 and as much as they’re striving to be more than highlights, the highlights are a lot of fun to watch.
When it’s going like it has the last month, it’s fun to coach, too.
“When we shoot it like we did tonight and we get after it defensively, yeah (it’s fun),’ Vinny Del Negro says after the win in Phoenix. “We played the right way, it’s the way the game should be played and then I feel good about it.”
“It was fun,” Foye says of his time with the Clippers. “Last year we did a lot of great things, we beat a great team in Memphis in the Playoffs.
“When we traveled we were like rock stars…it was fun, man. It was a lot of fun, you’ve got Chris Paul, a great guy, great teammate, he really shares the ball, it’s just great being around him. I learned a lot from him.”
It’s here you get a glimpse into the inner workings of Lob City and what’s helped Bledsoe and others excel this year. Great players always make those around them better.
“I think …Chauncey, sitting next to him on the plane, picking his brain every day, just trying to learn the game and see how I can improve, what he went through to get where he is. He helped me a lot.”
“We’ve thought that [we were contenders] since Day 1,” Crawford says. “We thought it in September when we looked around and saw the pieces and thought it was good.
“We’re trying to prove it to ourselves now, because we believe it. We’re just going to go out there and continue to validate it and continue to get better as the season goes.”