EXPERIENCE A FACTOR ENTERING PLAYOFFS
PLAYA VISTA – On the eve of renewing a budding postseason rivalry with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers are well aware of how much difference a year of experience can make.
After earning a seven-game series win at FedEx Forum on Mother’s Day in Memphis last year, the teams face off again in round one, beginning Saturday night at Staples Center.
“I thought we really grew up a lot during that series last year and knowing just how big the small, tedious things are,” said Chauncey Billups, who was forced to sit out in 2012 while recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon. “We go down there Game7 and pull out a great win, but that series could have gone either way. A few different plays here or there and we could have lost in the first round. We know just how small things are in a high-demanding series.”
Entering last year’s tilt with the Grizzlies, three starters, including All-Star Blake Griffin and young center DeAndre Jordan, had not played a postseason game in their career. Eleven games does not make a career, but the Clippers’ front-court tandem, as well as sparkplug reserve Eric Bledsoe, are far more aware of the difference between regular-season basketball and the level of intensity required to succeed in the playoffs.
Chris Paul, who has 20 double-doubles in 34 career postseason games, pointed to Griffin and Jordan’s experience a year ago as a major factor heading into their 2013 run.
“The biggest thing going into this year that we didn’t have last year is more experience with two of our key guys in Blake and DJ (Jordan),” Paul said.
Griffin averaged a team-high 19.1 points and shot 50.0% in 11 games against the Spurs and Grizzlies in 2012’s playoffs, while Jordan was second on the team in blocks and third in rebounding despite playing less than 23 minutes per game.
“I feel like I just know what to expect a lot more this year,” Griffin said. “Last year, I thought I knew what to expect, but it’s a whole different ball game like I’ve said before. But I’m looking forward to it.”
The Clippers now have one of the most experienced postseason rosters in the NBA, boasting four players, Billups, Caron Butler, Ronny Turiaf and Lamar Odom (twice), who have won a championship. Only the Miami Heat (12 players) have more individuals with at least one title on their playoff roster.
“Our experience as a group is great and we’ve added guys who have played in huge games and played in a lot of playoff games,” Griffin said. “Lamar [Odom], Chauncey [Billups] was with us last year, obviously, but he was hurt. Having Matt [Barnes], Jamal [Crawford], all these guys adds to our collective wisdom, I guess.”
Barnes and Crawford, who were the Clippers’ top two scorers off the bench, played in 69 playoff games combined. Odom and Billups are also ranked among the top 20 of active players in postseason experience. Billups was the Finals MVP in 2004 with the Pistons and played in the NBA Finals again a year later when Detroit lost in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs. Odom went to three-straight Finals from 2008-10, including winning two in a row as a member of the Lakers.
Asked what the experience from last year combined with the number of playoff-ready veterans on the roster means, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said, “We know we’re more than capable. We just have to go out and execute.”