|Eric Patten Follow @ericpatten|
BEIJING–Blake Griffin stood in front of dozens of Chinese media members Wednesday and sounded genuinely excited about taking the court Thursday for the Clippers’ second preseason game.
“I’m really looking forward to playing here and playing front of the crowd and seeing what the atmosphere is like,” Griffin said. “I’ve never played overseas so I’m really looking forward to the experience.”
Most exhibition games can be on the mundane side. The games do not count in the standings, minutes are limited, crowds are subdued and there’s a seemingly built in adjustment period to work out the kinks and chemistry before the regular season opens. When the Clippers face the Miami Heat Thursday in the first of two matchups in the 2012 NBA China Games, it will be different.
While it’s still the preseason, there will be a different kind of buzz, an uplifting sort of energy from what presumably will be a bi-partisan basketball-hungry crowd.
Another first-time visitor to China, Jamal Crawford said “the stage” of the event makes it important. “We’re honored that [China] allowed us to come here,” he added. “The Miami Heat are a championship team, and we aspire to be champions, so I think you’ll see a high-level basketball game here tomorrow night.”
Still, as the Clippers take the court amidst the excitement they remain a work in progress, trying to acclimate seven new faces to a group with exceedingly high expectations.
“The exhibition games we’re not game planning as much, we’re not going over personnel for the other team as much,” Griffin said. “But it’s one of those things where we want to work on our game and offensively and defensively work on our schemes and our coverages to help us down the road.”
Head Coach Vinny Del Negro agreed with Griffin’s assessment that at this point in the preseason it’s not about the opponent as much as it is building a foundation heading into the season.
“The last few exhibition games when we get our whole team together, other than obviously Chauncey [Billups], we’ll get a better feel, get some rotations down, get some guys healthy. We’ve put a lot of work in the last week or so. It’s a building process for us and you can’t shortcut it.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Eric Bledsoe, Part 2: With Chris Paul (thumb) medically cleared for full-contact Bledsoe’s stint with the starting five may be short lived. However, on Thursday, the explosive young point guard will get another opportunity to run with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, et al. Against Denver last week, he had 25 points to lead all scorers, five steals, eight rebounds, and six assists, rightfully living up to the blogosphere’s nickname “Mini LeBron.” This time he’ll try to match the box score-stuffing performance against the real LeBron.
What does the defense look like another game into the preseason? It’s not as much about how the defense plays or holding the Heat to a certain number of points, but about showing the team was able to build from the Denver game. Since arriving in China, the Clippers coaching staff has emphasized closing out on 3-point shooters among other defensive areas they would like to see improvement.
The Heat have plenty of gunners, including Ray Allen (the all-time leader in shots from behind the arc), James Jones (last season’s 3-point contest champion), Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and others. It will be a good test for the Clippers, who allowed Denver an 8-for-17 shooting night from 3-point range.
The atmosphere. The Clippers-Nuggets game took on a showman like effort under the lights of Vegas, so what form will Thursday’s matchup take on with arguably five of the NBA’s top 20 players in the building? Of course, Paul and Dwyane Wade (left knee) are not expected to play, but there is still enough star power to go around. As noted, it’s not a normal exhibition game, so expect maybe to see a little extra pizzazz.
Thursday is the third time in the last decade the Clippers played an international preseason game. They played in Moscow in 2006 and Mexico City against the Spurs in 2010… The last NBA game in China was Oct. 16, 2010 when the Rockets defeated the Nets, 91-81… James played in China in 2007 with the Cavaliers and again in 2008 with the U.S. Olympic team. Paul was a member of that team as well… The Heat lost their preseason opener, 92-79, Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks… The Clippers will likely have just 15 players available as Paul is expected to sit out while Chauncey Billups (Achilles) and Trey Thompkins (knee) did not make the trip.