BILLUPS SHINES IN FIRST HOME START SINCE DECEMBER
LOS ANGELES – The Clippers returned home Wednesday night for the first time since Jan. 27, but it marked more than just a homecoming for the Pacific Division leaders.
Their 106-96 victory over the Houston Rockets saw Chauncey Billups return to the Clippers starting lineup at home for the first time since Dec. 1, a 116-81 victory. The crowd responded to his introduction pregame with a loud ovation that resembled the one he received when he made his season debut on Nov. 28 against Minnesota.
“He knows how to play,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He knows angles and does a great job of communicating things on both ends of the court and I think it takes pressure off everybody to have him out there.”
The game also marked the first time this season that the Staples Center crowd got to see the full version of the Clippers squad that was hyped for much of the offseason after the team’s myriad of acquisitions.
“Everybody knows that we’ve got a very dangerous team and a very deep team,” Billups said. “I just feel like if our starters could get us off with a good first quarter, I think our bench will be able to outlast every other bench in the league.
Billups had struggled with his shooting in his first two games back from the left foot tendinitis that sidelined him for 34 games. He was shooting 5-for-13 from the field and 3-for-10 from beyond the arc before sitting out Monday’s victory against the 76ers with a sore lower back.
“You have to think about it, the guy’s been basically out a year and played in four or five games throughout the season,” Del Negro said. “It’s different doing drills and everything in practice. The games are different. There’s more contact, your adrenaline is going so he’s got to get back to that a little bit.”
On Wednesday night, his back seemed fine and his shot was pure. He scored 15 points in the first half en route to 19 for the game, including seven points on two 3-pointers and a technical free throw during the Clippers 46-point explosion in the first quarter.
It was his first double-digit scoring effort in six games this season and most since he scored 32 on Jan. 29, 2012.
“He’s still getting his rhythm and timing back but the thing with Chauncey is that you cannot give him that much room at all coming off those ball screens,” point guard Chris Paul said.
While Billups did a lot of damage with his scoring in the first half, his first and only bucket of the third quarter was perhaps his best. He isolated his defender on the left wing and drove into contact. He then spun away and hit a fall away jumper. Not bad for a player still trying to adjust to a relatively new position at shooting guard.
“I’ve been a point guard my whole career,” Billups said. “I had a lot of advantages at that spot. I’m bigger and stronger than most guys. I’ve got the ball in my hands and I can create and outthink teams.
“Now I’m playing shooting guard and I’m smaller than most guys and I don’t really have the ball in my hands so it’s a difficult transition but for me I feel like I’m going to play like I’ve always played while I’m out there. As long as I’m on the court I’m going to find a way to be effective and that’s always been my mindset. It is difficult though.”
Billups perhaps showed his true worth when he was not putting the ball in the basket. Although he only had two assists, he initiated a number of offensive sets for the Clippers, particularly in the second half. The luxury of having two point guards in the backcourt is one of the many reasons Billups’ return to the lineup is an important step on the Clippers road to success.
“He’s just another smart player and another option we have now,” forward Blake Griffin said.
Paul, who has preached consistently on the value of Billups to the offense, continued to do so after the game.
“He’s very important,” Paul said. “Chauncey gives me a chance to get off the ball. I can go to the elbow and iso and let him come off the ball screen. He can orchestrate it every now and then in order to get the ball back to me. It’s pretty nice to have him out there.”