Righting the Clips

by February 01, 2011

by Patrick Crawley / @BasketballFiend

Statistically, it’s been a rough season for Baron Davis. He’s scoring less, taking fewer shots and playing fewer minutes than in his two previous years in Los Angeles. In fact, most of his numbers haven’t been this low since his sophomore season with the Charlotte Hornets.

You’d expect this to upset him, to be a sore spot, to tick him off. After all, this is Baron Davis we’re talking about, the great Bruin gunner who never met a shot he didn’t like.

Surprisingly, though, it’s not a point of contention. The stats don’t make him mad.

The Clippers are winning, and Baron is happy.

“I think now we have the right team and the right chemistry,” he said after Saturday’s home win over the Charlotte Bobcats. “We’re having fun. I don’t think the first two years we were having any fun around here. I think that’s why you see the change.”

The change he’s talking about is a cultural shift, a radical one; the kind we never expected with Donald Sterling at the helm.

It’s evident in the number of wins the Clippers have — 19 at the moment, just 10 fewer than the team had all last season. But the win column doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s something else, too, that has spurred this change – not just in the organization, but in Baron as well — something not quite as tangible.

For the first time in a long time, the Clippers are an entertaining team to watch. They play to a packed house now. Their highlights lead SportsCenter. They have a half-man, half-amazing rookie named Blake Griffin (heard of him?) who tips the scales of greatness further out of reach each time he plays. They play hard all night, every night.

With their alley-oops and emphatic blocks, the Clippers are a veritable three-ring circus, one that comes to Staples Center 44 times a season (don’t forget those two Lakers “road” games).

For Baron, ever the showman, the change in culture is enough to forgive a decline in minutes and shots. Hell, he and Blake are blowing up the blogosphere every morning. What more could you ask for?

“Year to year, it’s a different opportunity, different situation,” he said. “When I first came here, I didn’t really have a platform to do what I needed to do. More was expected and not enough was given. With [Blake Griffin’s] youth and his exuberance, as well as our young guys, for the first time it’s been about basketball around here — and it’s good to have that.”

You’re scratching your head now. Isn’t it always about basketball?

The difference, according to Baron:

“You’re not worried about contracts or who’s getting traded,” he said. “The first two years it was just a lot of drama going on. I think now, because we have a lot of young guys that are going to be around for a while, everybody just comes to the gym on our days off and just work on our game.”

Furthermore, the new coaching staff – headlined by Vinny Del Negro – is catering to Baron’s strengths.

“Our coaching staff brings a positive attitude to the game,” he said. “They ask us for things on the defensive end and they demand that we execute on offense. Other than that, they want us to be aggressive, take first opportunity shots. It makes the game fun when you’re able to go out there and be creative and play to your strengths.”

Doing so has clearly lit a fire under the 31-year-old L.A. native. As his Twitter-shattering offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks shows, he’s invested now in a way he never was his first two seasons in LaLa Land – that rebound, with 1:02 left, was the key to the Clippers’ 105-98 win, their ninth in a row at home.

Del Negro and Baron’s Clipper teammates care about winning, about shining a spotlight on the part of the city the Lakers have left bare – the part primed for entertaining, playground-style basketball – and Baron is willing to give it his all too.

Asked about the difference between Baron’s play now and at the beginning of the season, Del Negro compliments his point guard’s newfound resolve.

“His attitude’s been good,” Del Negro said. “Baron’s been working. His weight’s good. He’s in better condition. He’s such a big part of us getting in the open court, getting guys easy baskets. He’s distributing the ball well.”

Nineteen assists, 5 turnovers in the last three games? You bet your Blake Griffin bobblehead doll he’s been distributing the ball well.

Stats be damned, though. The Clippers are making a mid-season Playoff push and, despite their struggles on the road (the Clippers are 3-15 away from home), Baron likes his team’s chances.

“We have the right pieces around,” he said. “If we can all stay healthy, we have a chance to be a special team.”

As far as his individual game is concerned, there are still critics (it’s not often you shoot 41.2 percent from the field and come out unscathed), but Baron doesn’t want to hear from them.

“I don’t really care about the critics,” he said. “I play basketball because I love basketball. I play for these fans, because they stick by us. And also to please the coaches, so if my coaches say I had a good game, that’s fine with me.”

It’s fine with him, it’s fine with Del Negro and it’s fine with the fans of Clipper Nation, who ooh and ahh at every lob to Blake. After all, that’s what the NBA is about, right? Winning and entertaining the masses?

Look at his stats and shake your head all you want. After two seasons of mediocrity, Baron Davis has finally come into his own with the Clippers.