CLIPPERS DEPTH SHOWS UP IN A BIG WAY

In Wednesday’s season opener the Clippers bench showed why most members of the roster feel it’s the deepest, most talented team they have played on. Following Thursday’s practice, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes talked about it. Plus, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro updated the status of injured forward Grant Hill.

PLAYA VISTA–It was not just that the Clippers scored 47 bench points in the team’s nine-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies on opening night. Or that one of them, Jamal Crawford, scored 29, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Or that five reserves combined to make 17 of their 27 shots.

It was that the Clippers, assumed to have one of the league’s deepest reserve units, did it without Grant Hill (knee) or Matt Barnes (suspension) and with Willie Green still in the starting lineup as Chauncey Billups continues rehabilitating from February surgery on a torn left Achilles tendon.

“I may be a little biased, but I think we’re the best bench in the NBA,” Crawford said after practice Thursday. “A lot of us have said that this is the most talented team we’ve ever been on and a lot of that has to do with our bench. It takes more than five guys to win and I think a lot of teams go through that, they’ll have six or seven guys in their rotation and then it’s a big drop off. With us it just gets stronger.”

Crawford led the team in scoring, while Eric Bledsoe added 13 points, four rebounds and four assists and Lamar Odom had six rebounds, four blocked shots and two assists in his first appearance since the Clippers’ third preseason game (Oct. 7). 

“We have the type of team where we can say, ‘Okay, he’s feeling it, so you guys rebound and defend and we’ll play through him,” said Odom, who missed nearly three weeks with bone bruises in his knees. “And then the next game maybe [another guy is] feeling it, so then you do the intangibles and we’ll play through him.’ We have so many guys that can do so many different things, so many guys that can create their own shot in the post or from the perimeter.”

The trio of Crawford, Bledsoe and Odom are certainly among those who can create their own shot, and on Wednesday Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins contributed the intangibles, diving for loose balls and banging in the paint with Memphis’ big-bodied front line of Zach Randolph, Marreese Speights and Marc Gasol.

Asked if it is easy to defer to teammates when one player has a hot streak going Odom said, “That’s a winner’s mentality. Some of us make the mistake of competing against ourselves. I think here everybody understands the way we compete in practice carries over into the game.”

Since training camp opened five weeks ago, several Clippers players have insisted that their practices, with effectively two starting-caliber units competing against each other, will be what sets the tone for the season.

“We were just talking about it in the locker room that our second unit can hang with any starting five in the league,” Barnes said Thursday. “We’re nursing a couple people back to health, but it’s going to be a problem [for other teams] when we’re at full strength.”

GRANT HILL UPDATE

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro talked after practice about Hill, who is out with a bone bruise in his right knee.

“He just needs some more time,” Del Negro said. “Our medical staff will keep giving me the updates on a daily basis and he’s doing his rehab. Luckily, we have Matt [Barnes] who can step in and give us some more size at the 3.”

Barnes was suspended for the Clippers opener against the Memphis Grizzlies for pleading nolo contendre, in California state court, to resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer in the discharge of his duties, but is expected to play Friday against the Lakers.

While there is still no timetable for Hill’s return, Del Negro said the 40-year-old, seven-time All-Star will not have a second MRI on his ailing knee. “There’s no reason to. He’s feeling a lot better. The doctor feels good about where he’s at. We’re not going to know anything until he starts conditioning on the court with the pounding. But he says everything’s looking good.”