PRACTICE REPORT: CLIPPERS READY FOR SEASON-LONG ROAD TRIP
PLAYA VISTA - This is more than a road trip. It’s an odyssey.
The Clippers, who practiced Tuesday before boarding a flight to Minneapolis, play eight road games in the next two weeks, spanning approximately 7,586 air miles.
“It’s a long trip,” Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s a lot of cities, but you can’t control the schedule. You can just go and be ready to play. And we’ve got a long one, so we better be ready.”
Over slightly half of their road schedule thus far, the Clippers have proven ready. They are 13-8 in 21 away games, owning the fourth-best road winning percentage (.619) in the NBA. They are also on pace to have their first winning record on the road in franchise history.
Del Negro said the team’s success away from Staples Center begins with the balance and leadership on the roster. “We have good balance on the roster. We have good experience. But we’ve got to learn to win with this group. We have to manage the game, especially in the fourth quarter and try to steal some wins here on the road. It will start with us on the defensive end, if we control our glass and get after it.”
The Clippers begin their annual “Grammy” trip Wednesday against the Timberwolves before playing the Raptors, Celtics, Wizards, Magic, Heat, Knicks and 76ers and return home in the early morning hours of Feb. 12. The journey takes them to two time zones, two countries, six states and a few distinct climates. According to weather.com, a daytime high of 16 degrees is expected in Minneapolis, while eight days later in Miami it is expected to be 77 degrees.
“It’s not ideal. You never want to be away from home that long,” Blake Griffin said. “But I wouldn’t say you dread it. You know you have to do it every year, a lot of teams have to do it.
“It’s just one of those things where you kind of have to mentally prepare for it. I think the hardest part is just packing.”
It is the 13th time Staples Center has hosted the Grammy Award ceremony in 14 years since the arena opened. The Clippers went 4-2 on the trip last year and were 2-9 in a record-setting 11 consecutive road games during Griffin’s rookie season in 2011.
Griffin said the approach this time has to be similar to some of their other lengthy trips that included sweeping a four-game road set in December and a three-game excursion two weeks ago.
“[We can’t] judge anybody before we go out and play them,” Griffin said. “Just to play everybody the same way and prepare ourselves before we even really look at anybody else. As long as we take care of ourselves and our rotations and come out with the right mentality then we’ll be okay.”
The trip is likely to begin without Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Chauncey Billups (peroneal tendinitis in his left foot). Del Negro said there is still no timetable for either guard’s return, but updated their status after practice.
“Chauncey practiced today, had some contact, which it was good to see him out there,” Del Negro said. “He said he felt pretty good.”
Billups took part in one of three 5-on-5 scrimmages that took place Tuesday, operating as the point guard with the second unit.
“[Chauncey] makes a difference when he’s out there because of his leadership,” Del Negro said. “He seemed pretty good when he was out there, so we’ll see how he responds.”
Paul, on the other hand, did not participate in practice.
“Chris just did a bunch of therapy, the elliptical, Ultra-G and the machines,” Del Negro said.
Paul, who has missed seven of the last nine games, remains day-to-day.
And while Del Negro would certainly like to have both members of his starting backcourt on the floor, he remains patient with the process. “It’s a day at a time thing and no timetable,” he said. “When [Clippers trainer] Jasen Powell tells me they’re ready to go then they’re ready to go.”