RIVERS AND OTHERS SUM UP PRESEASON FOR CLIPPERS
Here is a primer on the upcoming season for the Clippers based on things Head Coach and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers and several Clippers players have said over the course of the preseason.
In Las Vegas prior to the Clippers’ preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, Rivers was asked about continuing what the Clippers have built over the last two seasons and if they’re ready to take the so-called “next step.”
“That’s the plan, clearly, but I think our team will tell us. I can say, we are or are not, it won’t matter,” Rivers said. “Our team will tell us if we’re ready to make that next step. I think we are, but I hate to have it non-descript. What is the next step? I don’t really like taking steps. I like taking jumps.”
Part of taking that jump comes from the way Rivers and his staff approach practice. They have referred to every session since training camp as a “playoff practice.” He explained what that meant the day after the Clippers played the Jazz on Oct. 23.
“The whole season you’re preparing for [the Playoffs],” Rivers said. “That’s the type of focus you have to have. We had a couple of slip ups on out of bounds plays [against the Jazz] and that could be the difference in the game. We didn’t box out at the free throw line at the end of the second quarter. They got an extra two points. That could be the difference in a game. We’ve got to get our guys thinking that way that the regular season and Playoffs are single-possession games. Every single possession can be the difference in the game. That’s the urgency that the great teams play with.”
Jamal Crawford explained what that’s like from a player’s perspective: “You’ll have practices over the course of the year where they’re like that at times, but not every day. So, you’re getting better every single day.”
The preseason for the Clippers (5-3) was about a progression, building a foundation for offensive and defensive schemes that will continue to change throughout the season. Rivers described how he envisions the offense working as part of that progression.
“The one thing I want to be at the end of the year is a team that can score on their individual talent and in continuity,” Rivers said. “If you don’t do both, you’ll get stopped in the Playoffs. You have to be able to do both. You don’t want to be a team that ends up in iso every single play, but you want to be a team that has the ability to go iso and score. The only other thing I tell our guys a lot is just because I called your number doesn’t mean I called your shot. There’s a big difference to that. Young players especially feel that way. Okay, it’s my play, but that doesn’t mean it’s your shot. It means it’s your play and you’re going to create a shot, hopefully for you, but if not for someone else.”
Entering the season, though, particularly after losing to the Grizzlies, 4-2, in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs, Chris Paul said the first thing the team needed to improve was its defense. But he was also self-critical.
“We needed to get better defensively,” Paul said. “I look at it as a team, but I always analyze myself, what more could I have done. I had to get better as a player and get better as a leader and not necessarily worry about everybody else, but worry about myself.”
Over the summer the Clippers were worried about assembling a group of players that fit around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. For Griffin, it was something he took note of immediately.
“I think really it’s about putting the best guys around the core of your team,” Griffin said. “Sometimes it’s not always about getting the biggest name guys or the guys who made the most All-Star teams, it’s about guys that really fit. I think we did a great job this summer of going to get some shooters, going to get guys who space the floor and play defense, re-signing the guys that we needed like C.P., Matt and Ryan and those guys. So, I think it’s really about putting that puzzle together.”
According to Rivers, the Clippers as a whole have something to prove.
“We all have something to prove, the whole team, including me. We haven’t won together. I don’t think of any single guy. I think of our whole group of coaches and players, we have something to prove to the league because we haven’t won together.”
Are they ready to open the season Oct. 29 against the Lakers?
“I think we’re ready. Honestly, do you think any coach knows he’s ready? I really don’t think any coach can say I know we’re ready. We’ve played preseason games. It’s a whole new level on Tuesday no matter what you do. I played a thousand years ago and I know my intensity was different game one compared to preseason. It just is. Guys use preseason to get in shape, to get their timing right. Even though they do have good intensity, Tuesday will be another level.”