SHANGHAI–Mercedes-Benz Arena looks as though a flying saucer plopped itself onto an oblong concrete building. It is stylistic and modern and on Sunday afternoon will play host to the Clippers and Heat, the first-ever basketball game in the new state-of-the-art facility outside of downtown Shanghai.
The game also marks the likely preseason debut of point guard Chris Paul and the conclusion of the 2012 NBA China Games, a weeklong series of events culminated with games in Beijing and the most populous city in the world. After five days in China’s capital city, the teams arrived in Shanghai early Friday morning with the Heat having wrapped up a 94-80 win over the winless Clippers the night before. Sunday will be the Clippers’ third exhibition game of the season, and so far, they are still meshing together.
“It’s another opportunity to grow,” Jamal Crawford said. “If you look at it, we definitely handled adversity. We came apart a little bit out there after they went on the run. We had our heads down and pressed things a little bit and those are the kinks you have to work out. It’s a maturation process.”
On Thursday, the Clippers were down by as many as 27 points, but cut that deficit in half in the third quarter. “We didn’t look great especially in the beginning,” Blake Griffin said when asked if the Clippers were somewhat out of rhythm. “I thought we did a good job fighting back, staying in the game, staying together, but we need to come out better in the first quarter and do a better job of packing that first punch.”
Griffin scored 19 points in game one of the NBA China Games, improving on a six-point outing in the team’s 106-104 loss to Denver in their preseason opener. Considering there is still nearly three weeks before the regular season tips off, no one is panicking.
“Right now we’re just trying to get better as a team, trying to incorporate everything we do into the games, and playing the right way,” Lamar Odom said.
Del Negro agreed, saying, “It’s time to transfer what we’ve been practicing into the game tomorrow. You can’t turn it over the way we have been turning it over (49 times in two games combined), so hopefully we’ll just get a little bit more comfortable tomorrow with the system and what we’re trying to do.”
Shooting the ball at Merceds-Benz Arena could be a problem. In Beijing the Clippers shot 43.7% from the field and just 40.7% from the free throw line (11-of-27). It could get worse in Shanghai. Neither the Heat or Clippers have practiced in the new arena, meaning pregame will be the first time the teams get a look at sightlines and rims. That said, Griffin seemed unconcerned.
“We’re kind of used to traveling around and playing in different gyms, but you have to adapt quickly,” Griffin said. “The best part about it is we’re playing in a new gym and so is the other team, so there’s really no home-court advantage either way.”
Del Negro added, “The rims are 10 feet, the courts are the same length, so we should be fine,” Del Negro said.