By Johannes Berendt

Clippers Kick Off

MOSCOW, Russia, Oct. 1, 2006 -- Forget about the jet lag. Forget about the Red Square. Forget about Moscow. Its October 1, and no matter where you are, its time to go to work for NBA players.

Some 12 hours after the Clippers landed on Russian soil, coach Mike Dunleavy staged the first practice session in CSKAs Universal Sports Hall. Running, conditioning and a lot of scrimmages - the surprise outfit from last season is back in action. And they are more ambitious than ever.

"Anything less than Second Round, Game 7 will be a disappointment," Elton Brand vowed. "Last year was the break-through so hopefully we can contain the success."

The Clippers clinched their first Playoff series in ages before ultimately falling to Phoenix in seven tough games. But coming of their winningest season since their move to Los Angeles (47-35), the Clippers are oozing with confidence.

"We have high expectations of our team," added coach Mike Dunleavy. "We felt we had a very good season last year. We dont feel it was a fluke because the way we won was with defense.

We were one of the top defensives teams in the NBA last year - the number one in the league in shot blocking and number one in defensive rebounds and number one or two in overall rebounding."

The Clippers have four days before they see the first competitive action of the season. As part of NBA Europe Live, they clash with CSKA Moscow and city rivals BC Khimki next week.

Dunleavy has warned everyone not to focus on the Moscow sightseeing activities.

"From my standpoint, we are here working," he said. "This is work for us. It is not a show. We are trying to get ourselves in condition and ready to play in the NBA. That is important for us.

Were looking to win but were also looking for the two teams to challenge us. They have been together for a month already. This will probably be a good challenge for us."

STARTING SPOTS UP FOR GRABS

October is probably the least favorite month for NBA players because of all the exhausting work-outs. To make matters worse, coach Dunleavy has declared the starting race open.

"We dont know yet about our starting line-up yet," he told the international media. "Weve guys who have been established players with us who we think will start but all jobs are up in the air for competition."

This should serve as an extra motivation for youngster Shaun Livingston, who enters his third year in the league, and the second as a back-up for Sam Cassell.

"I should play a more significant role offensively and defensively this season and be a major contributor," the 20-year-old told us after practice. "I think my playing time will increase, especially with Sam getting older. I think that is more of his wish to come in, play some minutes and do what the team needs."

Livingston, who averaged 5.8 points in 25 minutes last season, is happy to learn from one of the best clutch shooters in the league.

"Hes a gamer," Livingston said of Cassell. "He takes control and pretty much leads by example.

This is my second year playing with him so this is more my time coming in and filing my role.

NEW FACES


TT got friendly with new teammate Maggette.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Apart from the recently-signed free agents Ryan Humphrey, Dawan Robinson and Jawad Williams, the Clippers will be looking to integrate Tim Thomas, Aaron Williams and Paul Davies.

"Part of us being here is to see players play," explained Dunleavy. "Were just getting started and try to get our new guys fit in. It is important for us as a group to pick up where we left last year. Learn how to play together and the main thing is to get in good condition."

Asides from the usual running, Day 1 featured several control and defensive scrimmages, with Dunleavy stopping play to make corrections.

"You have to talk on defense," was among the basics he reminded his players of. And: "If you get the ball high in the post, its a perfect time to run a baseline cut."

INNOVATIVE WAYS TO KILL THE JET LAG JUST DON`T BOTHER

Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston came up with two interesting ways of killing the jet lag.

"Right now I havent crashed yet," EB told us. "I slept on the plane and was up early today so it hasnt hit me. So I am feeling pretty good and Im trying not to think about it."

And how did Livingston trick the time difference?

"I slept the whole way," he laughed. "Both flights (Los Angeles to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Moscow), even in between flights. I slept pretty much the whole time at the hotel also. But I am wide awake now but Ill get some good sleep tonight to catch up on the hours and everything."

The Clippers will be back in practice on Monday.