Posted Dec 20 2011 2:32AM
LOS ANGELES -- That's it. Los Angeles.
Not Lob City, as Blake Griffin predicted in the hours after the league-shaking acquisition of Chris Paul.
Not a Clippers town yet, the way some predicted Little Brother would instantly rise up and claim it as their own, in superiority and popularity.
This is going to take some time, for the Lakers to go away and for the Clippers to match the preseason hype. And if the Lakers turn Andrew Bynum and another important piece or two, with the help of the $8.9-million trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom deal, into Dwight Howard, it could take a long time.
Monday night at Staples Center was fun, with Paul making his debut in red after six starring seasons with the Hornets. Both sides played the regulars a lot, with only two chances before the season begins on Sunday, attendance was 18,643, CP3 got cheers and some boos when introduced -- Lakers home game, Lakers season-ticket holders, mostly Lakers crowd -- and it didn't feel like an exhibition game. That's high praise.
It was also a reminder, even in a 114-95 victory, that this could take a little while to come together, and not preseason-game come together. Regular season come together. Teams-aiming-for-them come together.
Even Paul himself. He had worn Clippers uniforms in the last few days for publicity shots, but couldn't help but look down and be struck by the road reds just before taking the court for the first time. He turned to Chauncey Billups, a friend before and teammate now, and said, "Man, this is crazy." It felt like a new beginning, and new beginnings can take time.
The Clippers, as they did Monday, will probably have three new starters when the games count for real beginning Sunday at Golden State, with Paul and Billups in the backcourt and Caron Butler at small forward. Of the two returning members of the opening lineup, power forward Griffin has 82 career appearances and center DeAndre Jordan has one season as a starter.
Plus, while everyone worries about the impact of the condensed post-lockout schedule, the Clippers don't even have a back-to-back until Jan. 10-11. They play seven games the first 17 days, hardly an accurate portrayal of what awaits.
Mid-January will be much more telling: that first back-to-back, with the Heat on the back end, followed by the Lakers, followed by three in a row, capped by the Mavericks coming to Staples Center. Then, late in the night of Jan. 18, will an accurate read be available.
"Of course there's excitement and things going on," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Hey, that's what it's all about. It could have been easy for us to sit back and say, 'OK, let's build this thing.' When you have an opportunity to get a guy like Chris and then get Chauncey, I'll take the heat. We're going to struggle at some times until we get it all together. There's going to be some bumps in the road. But my feeling is, hey, life is too short. Let's have some fun. Let's see what we can do. We know we have to add pieces. As long as Neil (Olshey, the vice president of basketball operations) and myself are on the same page and (president) Andy Roeser and Mr. (Donald) Sterling (the owner), we'll continue to add to make us better. But I'm comfortable with the group we have right now. I'm very comfortable in them and I know we're going to work hard and play the right way. And we'll see how everything comes out."
Paul finished with 17 points on six-of-nine shooting, nine assists, three turnovers, seven rebounds and five steals in one of the few times a state line will matter in a preseason game. When he did throw the first lob, it was to Jordan, not Griffin, for a slam Jordan did a great job of controlling with one hand and driving down through the basket. And when Griffin got his highlight moment about a minute later, the toss off the backboard he corralled and turned into a two-hand stuff and technical for hanging on the rim was from Billups, not Paul.
"We're not getting caught up in the hype," Paul said. "We still have to go out there and practice every day and continue to get better day by day. We can't control what happens in the media and what people say and stuff like that. But we can control what happens in this locker room. We're just making sure guys stay focused and understand it's a long season and it's going day by day."
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