The Clippers get a well-deserved welcome home Wednesday when they take on the Utah Jazz in their first preseason game at Staples Center.
While their exhibition schedule opened 11 days and three games ago, the team has yet to play in their home arena. Instead, “hosting” a game in Las Vegas versus the Nuggets and playing neutral site games against the Heat in Beijing and Shanghai respectively.
They returned from China Sunday afternoon and after an off day, held a two and a half hour practice Tuesday. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro was asked about the trip overseas. “It was a long trip, a lot of travel and a lot of appearances. But I thought our guys handled very well and it’s good to be back home.”
After losing by 14 points to Miami in the first game of the series in China, the Clippers (1-2) bounced back with a 99-89 victory in game two. DeAndre Jordan scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting, Jamal Crawford added 15 points off the bench, and Blake Griffin had his first double-double of the young preseason with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The game also marked the return of point guard Chris Paul, who played 22 minutes in his first game since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb in August. Paul said he was limited against the Heat, but expects to be “full go” Wednesday.
For Del Negro, Paul’s return meant perhaps settling the team’s turnover problems. In three exhibition games they have committed 73 miscues. “Chris is as good as there is at running a team,” he said. “Chris settles everybody down, he runs the team. He’s the quarterback out there.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Minutes. After practice a number of players said they were still feeling the effects of jet lag. Expect to see Del Negro utilize a variety of lineups and regulate minutes across the board. “We’ll divvy it up,” he said. “It’s not going to be that smooth because of all the different lineups out there, but as long as we play hard and play together and get better tomorrow that’s the key for me.”.
That may mean more of Matt Barnes and Grant Hill playing at the “four” spot next to Lamar Odom off the bench. Despite Utah’s oversized front court of Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter, Del Negro says it’s about mixing and matching his own lineup right now.
“Obviously, it’s not about anything anyone else is doing, it’s about us right now and trying to find a way every day to improve.”
Jordan vs. Jefferson. Not the former LSU quarterback (Jordan Jefferson). After continuing what has been an offensive revelation in the preseason with his perfect shooting afternoon in Shanghai, Jordan will be tested by the Jazz big man Wednesday. Jefferson, who uses a series of head fakes, tends to get bigs in foul trouble. While Jordan committed 3.8 fouls per 36 minutes with Jefferson on the floor (on par with his season average), Jefferson scored 23.5 points per game in 75 minutes versus the Clippers’ center last season.
Staples Center crowd. It’s only the preseason, but the game has long been a tough ticket. It is reasonable to expect Clipper fans to wildly embrace their new-look team, although it’s just the first of three warm up acts before everything gets going for real on Halloween.
Former Clippers Mo Williams and Randy Foye will visit Staples Center with the Jazz for the first of three meetings… Williams (strained right abductor muscle) is out Wednesday… Crawford is averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game in the preseason… Trey Thompkins (knee) will likely remain out for the entire exhibition season, Del Negro said Tuesday… Injured point guard Earl Watson (knee) played collegiately at UCLA with Clippers forward Matt Barnes… The Jazz have only lost twice since the beginning of the 2010 preseason (11-2).
Asked how he would assess the team so far, Paul said, “I think we’re right where we need to be. We never want to peak too early. We’ve shown a lot of good signs in some areas, and need a lot of work in other areas. Tomorrow’s another good test for us.”