CLIPPERS TAKE TO SKY FOR SECOND LONG ROAD TRIP IN A MONTH
Doc Rivers has talked all season, and even in the days and weeks before it started, about the Clippers embracing the challenge of adverse situations.
Down by 17 with five minutes to go: find a way to win the game. Playing without your superstar point guard: find a way to win five of the first six games in his absence.
It’s a similar approach to the Clippers’ annual Grammy road trip: seven games, 11 nights, leaping time zones and cold-weather cities. Rivers wants his Clippers to soak it in, enjoy the difficulty of playing on the road.
They already experienced it once this season, going 4-3 on a seven-game road trip that extended from Dec. 3-14. On Friday night in New York, the Clippers (27-13) begin marathon jaunt number two. It’s only the second time in the team’s Los Angeles history that they have traveled on two road trips of seven games or longer in the same season (2004-05).
According to Rivers, doing it again, even with Chris Paul sidelined for its duration with a separated right shoulder, is beneficial.
“I actually didn’t mind the [previous] trip as much as I thought I would, to be honest,” said Rivers, who had previously never been on a road trip longer than six games as a coach or player. “I didn’t like our results. 4-3, to me, sounds good, but I didn’t think it was very good. And this is going to be a harder one without your guy (Chris Paul), but I actually liked the trip. I liked the seven games. I don’t know why. I just did. It was good team-building. You’re stuck out there all by yourself and I think there are some positive things that you can take out of that. I didn’t know that before that trip.”
The Grammy trip, unlike the Clippers’ December trek back east, has become an annual tradition for Staples Center tenants. This is the 14th year the awards ceremony has been held at the Clippers’ home venue since the arena opened 15 years ago. The Grammys were held at Madison Square Garden in 2003, coincidentally the site of the Clippers’ opening game on this year’s trip.
Overall, they will travel approximately 11,275 air miles beginning with a near six-hour flight from Los Angeles to New York. From there they fly to league-best Indiana for their first of two back-to-backs on the trip, Detroit for a 10 a.m. PT game on Martin Luther King Day, Charlotte, and back-to-back with Chicago and Toronto before concluding the trip at Milwaukee on Jan. 27.
“I’m pretty used to the long road trip,” Blake Griffin said. “I think that first one we had was a good test for us. We want to perform a lot better than we did that last road trip. I thought it was pretty disappointing last time around, so it’s going to be tough, being on the road in the same situation without our point guard. But guys have to step up and I’m sure guys will.”
Historically, this stretch has been unkind to the Clippers. They have won just 34 percent of their games on the Grammy trip and finished .500 or better just three times. However, Griffin has been a part of two of those .500 trips, going 4-2 in 2012 and 4-4 in 2013.
Those records came with Paul alongside him. And while the Clippers are 5-1 without Paul this season, including 1-1 on the road, they will certainly have to embrace surviving on the road without him. He is expected to stay in Los Angeles for the first three games to receive additional treatment on his shoulder. He will then likely join the Clippers in Charlotte to resume his role as a pseudo coach on the sideline.
Earlier in the week Rivers said the decision about whether or not Paul would travel with the team would be based solely on what would lead to a quicker recovery.
“If traveling with us, because a lot of our [medical staff is] on that trip, will help get healthy then we’ll have him.” Rivers explained. “But if staying at home and being with his family and resting and getting treatment will make him healthier, I know it will make him happier, but if it makes him healthier then I think he should stay home.”
Paul’s absence, in Rivers’ mind, still shouldn’t prevent them from improving the way they played on the road a month ago.
“We want to play better,” he said. “We really do, even without Chris. I thought we were very inconsistent in our play. And you have to be a consistent team on the road. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win but I think you give yourself a shot to.”
If that happens, and the Clippers return to Los Angeles with a better winning percentage than they left, they could be setting themselves up for an historic finish. They would have 20 of their final 35 games at home, a place they’ve earned the second best record in the league (18-3) thus far. And Paul’s return would be on the horizon.
That’s something anyone should be willing to embrace.