‘NEW’ BENCH STILL LEARNING EACH OTHER

NEW ORLEANS – They are the newest second unit in basketball.

With three weeks left in the season and playoff positioning remaining up for grabs, the Clippers (50-21) are piecing together a second unit that has truly not played together.

“If you look at our team, coming into this year, we had half a new team,” Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford said. “And since then we’ve had another half of a new team. But they’re all guys who want to sacrifice and want to win and for us that’s all it’s about.”

Crawford, who returned from a strained left calf on Saturday, is talking about the additions of Glen Davis, Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu. All three were added since the turn of the calendar year, and Davis and Granger have come aboard within the last few weeks. Integrating two or three new pieces would have been enough of a challenge, but it was prolonged by Crawford’s absence. 

“We switched people in and out,” said Granger, who made his Clippers’ debut on Mar. 4. “We added me and Baby [Glen Davis], Jamal is back now. When you have a bunch of guys that haven‘t really played with each other, it‘s definitely a work in progress.”‖

The group of Crawford, Turkoglu, Granger, Davis and Darren Collison, who is doubling as the starting shooting guard and backup point, has played just 17 minutes together. In the past two games, their most extended court time, they have allowed the Pistons and Bucks to chip away at double-digit Clippers’ leads.

In Monday’s eight-point win over the Bucks, the Clippers 35-25 advantage slipped away in the first few minutes of the second quarter when the reserves came in.

“Our second unit has to be better,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “I think it was a 9-2 run right when they walked on the floor. I thought we started out the game right, we got out to a 12-point lead, and then our bench came in and gave it up.”

Still, it’s a group that has potential to turn the tide for the Clippers in a few weeks, when the Playoffs begin. Davis has been an integral part of two Finals teams in Boston. Granger, who has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games, is a former All-Star. Collison has led the Clippers as both a starter and reserve. And Crawford is, well, Crawford.

“Our second unit is not a real second unit,” Chris Paul said. “If you guys had a chance to get in and see our practices and how competitive it is, it’s fun to watch. We’re going to need everyone, everyone on our team in order to get to where we want to be.”

Until then, the group has been working to develop chemistry, including coming into the facility during the numerous non-practice days, studying film together and learning each other’s habits. And it’s all happening with little time to spare.

“Players play together for a whole year and then you really develop good chemistry,” Granger said. “We‘re trying to do it in about 15-20 games to get ready for the Playoffs. It‘s a challenge. We hit and miss sometimes, but we‘re watching a lot of film and working off the court. We‘re going to figure it out.”