CLIPPERS SUDDENLY CROWDED AT SMALL FORWARD
SALT LAKE CITY – The Clippers have a logjam at small forward.
With the return of Jared Dudley from a back injury, the emergence of Matt Barnes, who is averaging 16.1 points in his last 11 games, and the arrival of Danny Granger, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has more options at his disposal on the wing than he did at any time previously this season.
Barnes has started every game since Jan. 20, when he replaced Dudley in the middle of the Clippers’ second seven-game road trip of the season. The Clippers have gone 19-6 since. Dudley’s minutes have dropped in the process. His back injury, on a driving layup against the Suns on Mar. 4, coincided with Granger’s debut. In five games after Dudley’s injury, Granger has scored in double figures three times including a season-high 18 points on Wednesday. And that’s not accounting for rookie Reggie Bullock, who has seen intermittent minutes at small forward as well.
Rivers said Friday prior to the Clippers’ 96-87 win over the Utah Jazz that trying to squeeze all four of them into a playing rotation that will likely get shorter as the Playoffs draw nearer, is not a challenge because he does not plan on trying to get everyone playing time.
“I’m not going to get them all on the floor so I’m not going to try,” Rivers said. “There will be times when teams go small, where we’ll use one of them at the four. We’re trying to win. I’m not trying to win who gets to play the most. We’re trying to win basketball games and get to be a great team. That takes sacrifice and guys will sacrifice minutes.”
Dudley may have to sacrifice the most. He has played just 15 seconds in the last two games combined, including receiving a DNP-CD on Friday. Against certain opponents that could change, as Rivers alluded to, but Utah, with a pair of centers in the frontcourt, was not the game for it.
Since training camp, Rivers has wanted to utilize a two small forward lineup that included Barnes and Dudley playing in the frontcourt alongside Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Early-season injuries to Barnes, Dudley’s struggles scoring the ball and the necessity of having Griffin and Jordan on the floor have all made that lineup less effective and utilized than Rivers envisioned.
But Granger may make that a viable option once again. Barnes and Granger have played 18 minutes together in the two games prior to Utah, including some time with Barnes as the shooting guard. Some of the lineup combinations, though, have been out of creative necessity, particularly with Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick still sidelined by injury.
And as the minutes at small forward are sorted out, Rivers said he embraces the idea of competition, even this late in the season.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever happy, at least I hope not, when they don’t play,” Rivers said. “I don’t like those guys. I want them to be unhappy when they don’t play. That’s a good thing, and to push each other every time they get in. I think that competition is very healthy for teams.”