DAY 7: CLIPPERS RUN TOWARDS PRESEASON DEBUT

Eric Patten  | 10/5/12


Head Coach Vinny Del Negro implored the Clippers to “push the ball” during part of Friday’s practice at their Playa Vista Training Facility.

They were working on fast-break offense and defense when Del Negro reminded all of his players that the Denver Nuggets, the top-scoring team in the NBA last season and the Clippers’ opponent in Saturday’s preseason opener in Las Vegas, would be eager to push the tempo.

The emphasis on the transition game was part of a two-hour workout, where the Clippers walked through a variety of offensive sets, discussed defending situational inbounds passes, and continued working on dribble handoffs, screen and roll defense, and live 5-on-5 scenarios in the half court.

During one of the full-speed, half-court sets forward Marqus Blakely took a charge from an on-coming guard, and nearly every player not involved in the play rushed onto the court to help him up. The play and subsequent reaction is indicative of the cumulative buy-in to improving defensively.

“Guys are working hard,” Del Negro said Friday, a couple of hours before boarding the team charter. “I like the intensity of our practices.”

For the second consecutive day, guard Chauncey Billups participated in some full-contact drills. Del Negro said, depending on how Billups feels, the plan is to gradually increase Billups’ workload as he works his way back from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon sustained in February.

Aside from Billups, Chris Paul (thumb), and Trey Thompkins, who is nursing a bone bruise in his left knee, the Clippers head to Las Vegas with a relatively healthy roster.

 “There are some guys sore and some irritations here and there, but nothing too drastic right now,” Del Negro said. “It’s still early, we just started and we’ve got the rest of the month and things.”

Guard Jamal Crawford said after a week of competing against his teammates, he is excited to tipoff against another NBA team.  

“It was even nice to get in front of the fans at the scrimmage,” Crawford said. “[Saturday’s game is] definitely a change of pace for us. We understand we’re just trying to get better each day. It’s not really about wins and losses; it’s just continuing to build each day.”

Take note: The team celebrated Grant Hill's 40th birthday after practice with mini cupcakes arranged into a 4-0. Hill blew out a single candle following a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by his teammates and coaching staff.


DAY 6: TEAM PICKS UP WHERE IT LEFT OFF FROM SCRIMMAGE

Eric Patten  | 10/4/12


The Clippers continued working towards their preseason debut with a three-hour practice session Thursday. They face the Denver Nuggets in an exhibition game Saturday in Las Vegas at 7:30 p.m.

“I thought we had a good practice today and good scrimmage last night,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’re just trying to build every day, getting everybody as comfortable as possible as quick as possible.”

The team spent a portion of the morning watching film from last night’s open scrimmage and followed up with walk-throughs. Their 5-on-0 offensive sets appeared more precise than previous days, perhaps a carryover from Wednesday. They also went through rebounding drills, inbounds plays from underneath their own basket, and spent a brief period on fast-break offense and defense.

Practice ended with two five-minute scrimmages with the clock stopping on each dead ball. Here are a few highlights:

-Blake Griffin knocked down two jumpers from outside of 18 feet in the early going.

-Travis Leslie continued his strong play from last night, making a 3-pointer and a handful of jumpers, including a leaner along the left baseline and coast-to-coast floater over DeAndre Jordan.

-Jamal Crawford made a contested 3-pointer off a feed from Lamar Odom and dished an assist to Caron Butler with an extra pass after Odom initiated the offense.

-Willie Green converted a corner 3-pointer off a nice drive and kick by Eric Bledsoe.

Take note: Odom had several of his teammates laughing as he recited lyrics from “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground during the pre-practice stretching routine.

BILLUPS AND PAUL INJURY UPDATE

After practice Del Negro talked about guard Chauncey Billups’ continued recovery from last season’s torn left Achilles tendon.

“Chauncey practiced a little bit more today,” he said. “He actually went through a couple of contact drills that we had. Not long, but he was in more than he was in in the past.”

Billups, who said Sunday he is in the “final phase” of his rehabilitation, has been relegated to non-contact drills through much of training camp. However, barring any setbacks he is expected to continue building towards full participation.

“He feels good,” Del Negro said. “He’s moving good. You can be in condition, but the body contact and the up and down, he’s got to get in shape. He’s got plenty of time. And as long as he keeps on not having any setbacks and keeps working forward, he’s going to be in good shape.”

Point guard Chris Paul remained out of full-contact drills Thursday while continuing to recover from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb.

“[I am] pretty close,” Paul said. “The trainers let me know what the protocol is every day.”

He said working on the side with Billups has made dealing with rehabilitation easier to deal with. 

“It makes it a lot easier because we’ve both been doing a lot,” Paul said. “We do 5-on-0 and all that different type stuff. It makes a lot easier on me knowing I can shoot with him and work out with him.”


 

DAY 5: OPEN SCRIMMAGE

Eric Patten  | 10/3/12


There was a brief practice before doors opened for the open scrimmage at Galen Center.


 

DAY 4: CLIPPERS WORK ON TRANSITION GAME

Eric Patten | 10/2/12


Tuesday was all about the running game for the Clippers.

Their two-and-a-half-hour practice opened with a 3-on-2, 2-on-1 drill, which allowed for a few noteworthy highlights. Eric Bledsoe pushed the ball down the center of the floor on one play, made a ball fake and dished off to Matt Barnes for a baseline dunk. Later, Grant Hill nailed an open jumper from the free throw line off a well-executed two-man break with Blake Griffin.

Hill, who spent five years running in the fast-paced Phoenix Suns offense, could prove to be a play-making threat on the break. When the team shifted gears and worked on locating their man in transition, Hill made a brilliant pass to DeAndre Jordan for a two-handed alley oop and overall rarely made a poor decision with the ball.

The Clippers also focused on jump-ball situations, broke into shooting groups by position, worked more on the defensive side of the floor, and mixed in three five-minute scrimmages to cap off the day.

Head Coach Vinny Del Negro continued mixing and matching personnel groups, something he said would be important with so much depth.

“It’s a little easier [to fit guys in] now because Chris [Paul] and Chauncey [Billups] are out from the contact,” Del Negro said. “They’re (Paul and Billups) doing the non-contact, so it’s been easier. But we’re deep, and guys that are out there better play hard because there’s another guy in line. Hopefully, that will make us play at a high level.”

Take note: During one drill, guard Jamal Crawford knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner and drew a foul when his leg got clipped by a defender. The play looked ever-so-familiar, in part, because Crawford is the NBA’s all-time leader in 4-point plays, setting the record while the Hawks in 2010. 


DAY 3: EVENING UPDATE

Eric Patten  | 10/1/12


The Clippers wrapped up their second two-a-day practice of training camp with a little more than an hour of work Monday evening.

They broke into positional shooting drills, which consisted of three stations spread between their two practice courts. Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom were together in one group taking a variety of jump shots from the baseline and elbow areas.

Later, the team ran through brief offensive sets, worked on defensive rotations in five-man units, and finished with free throws, per their usual routine. 

“We’re just going to build every day,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s all got to come together. It’s great on paper, but it’s all got to come together as a team.”

The Clippers are back on the practice court tomorrow morning before Wednesday’s open scrimmage at USC’s Galen Center.


DAY 3: HILL 'SURPRISED' BY JORDAN AND BLEDSOE

Eric Patten | 10/1/12


Grant Hill would be hard-pressed to be caught off guard on the basketball court.

The 18-year veteran and two-time NCAA champion has been through practically any situation imaginable, so on Monday morning when Hill said the two most surprising players thus far in camp were youngsters Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan, the comment carried some weight.  

“I really like Bledsoe,” Hill said following the first of two practices Monday. “I think his ability to attack the screen-and-roll. I think his decision making, we all know he’s a great athlete, but he looks like he’s put a lot of time in working on that this offseason.

“DeAndre, I didn’t realize he could post like that, but he’s really been catching the ball in the post, being really decisive, making really powerful moves, the right read. I didn’t recall him posting a lot last year, but it looks like he’s worked a lot at that and he’s confident and the team has confidence in him.”

While the Clippers roster consists of a generous mix of veterans and younger players, Bledsoe and Jordan enter the season as potential difference makers. With Chris Paul (thumb) sidelined during full-contact drills, Bledsoe has been running with the first-team offense, while Jordan, a surefire starter, has appeared to be a more imposing post player.

Hill said that the first three days of camp have been going well overall. “I think we have some guys who understand how to play,” he said. “For a team that has a bunch of new faces and is new for the most part and is playing together for the first time, it’s going better than I thought it would at this point.

“We have a lot of pieces, a lot of talent. We just need to bring it all together.”

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro sees Hill as an integral part of that.

 “He’s been very healthy and we’ve just got to manage his minutes,” Del Negro said. “He is just such a valuable, versatile player. He’s a winner.”

After spending the previous five seasons with the Suns, the 39-year-old Hill now finds himself as a somewhat of a new kid.

“The guys who have been here have been really good to us new guys, so it’s been comfortable,” Hill said. “We’ve only been together for a short while, but you’re starting to get to know the guys and have fun with each other. I think that’s big, it carries over onto the court and just helps build that trust.”


DAY 2: DEFENSIVE PROGRESS

Eric Patten | 9/30/12


Two days and three practices into training camp, the Clippers are already making strides on the defensive end of the floor.

“Defensively, I think we’re further along than I thought we would be,” Blake Griffin said following Sunday morning’s practice. “I think we really do a good job defensively. Just with all the vets, there’s not as much teaching going on. I think our defensive coverages, just our intensity has been great.”

The team spent a majority of Saturday evening working on defense with players constantly talking and clapping up hustle plays. The same energy carried over to Sunday morning when they broke into small groups and rotated between three defensive drilling stations.

The most positive sign thus far, according to Griffin has been the level of communication between defenders.

“We had trouble at times [last season] communicating on rotations,” Griffin said Sunday. “The best part about this [year] is we’re having a full training camp to really get this down and not just two weeks or whatever it was last year.”

The Clippers will benefit from the additions of Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf, all veterans who have thrived as individual or team defenders. The continued development of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan should help as well, particularly when coupled with NBA steals leader Chris Paul and athletic reserve guard Eric Bledsoe patrolling the perimeter.

Still, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro is quick to point out that the team is still in the early stages of camp.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but I thought the effort was good,” Del Negro said. “When you’ve got some veteran guys out there that have played I think the communication is a little bit better. I thought the effort was good the intensity was good, mixing and matching lineups and things.”

FIGURING OUT THE 2-GUARD

With Paul (thumb) and Chauncey Billups (Achilles) sitting out the early stages of the preseason, there are still several options in the backcourt. Del Negro talked about the Clippers’ depth Sunday, saying that he is tinkering with lineups and rotations heading into Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Nuggets.

“We’ve got to work through a lot of stuff,” Del Negro said. “Mixing different lineups in, trying to see who works well together, and the chemistry, and just kind of building a foundation for what we want to do at both ends of the court.”

Bledsoe will likely start at point guard in Paul’s absence, with former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, Hill, and Barnes all vying for playing time next to him. It helps that Crawford is more than capable of shifting down to play the point, and that starting small forward Caron Butler could also play shooting guard in certain situations.

Del Negro has said on several occasions that the team’s depth, and potential fight for playing time, is a “good problem to have.”


DAY 1: CLIPPERS HAVE 'PRODUCTIVE FIRST DAY'

Mirin Fader | 9/29/12


The seven new Clippers waited all summer for this.

Yesterday they put on the red, white, and blue uniforms for the first time at Media Day, posing for countless pictures, signing basketballs, joking with each other and answering questions from more reporters than there’s been at the Playa Vista Training Center since May.

But Saturday, at the opening of training camp, they finally got down to work—and no one’s uniform was dry when it was over. Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins, Willie Green, and Ronny Turiaf took the court for the first time with the returning cast, eager to make a statement to the rest of the league: the Clippers get deeper every year and are inching to get past the Western Conference semi-finals.

Head Coach Vinny Del Negro was impressed at the leadership his newly signed veterans have shown already.

“The communication was pretty good for the first practice, since the veteran guys have been around and know what to do,” he said. “It was good to get the group together, and I thought it was a very productive first day.”

Odom felt like the newcomers looked particularly strong in the scrimmage against the starters, already showing signs of making the right reads and knowing where each player likes the ball. On a few plays, Odom hit Hill cutting backdoor for layups, and Turiaf and Odom were able to feed off of each other in the post.    

PAUL AND BILLUPS TAKE PLACE IN NON-CONTACT DRILLS

It finally set in to Chris Paul that he had a couple more accomplished veterans wearing the same jersey as him, ready to compete for a championship. 

“I caught myself really excited on the sidelines watching guys like Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom, all these great players out there on the court,” he said. “It was really cool to see that now they’re actually on my team.”

Paul, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb in August, participated in non-contact drills, and Chauncey Billups, who underwent surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon in February, also lightly participated. Though the two couldn’t scrimmage with the team, Paul was excited to see his backcourt mate Billups back on the floor.

“It was really nice to see Chauncey out there with us,” Paul said. “When Coach [Del Negro] called the starters to go out and go over things, me and Chauncey went out there like normal. Then when they started scrimmaging, we went off to the side to shoot some jumpers together.”

At Media Day, Paul insisted he would be ready to play in the season opener, Oct. 31, if not sooner. Billups is expected to take more time in his return, but the team's depth in the backcourt will help with Crawford, Hill, and Bledsoe among those who could step in.