Jordan, Starters In Sync In 103-96 Preseason Opening Win

Rowan Kavner

LOS ANGELES – With 10 new additions to the Clippers lineup and only seven returning starters, the chemistry, lineup combinations and rhythm will all take time.

At least, that’s the case for the backups.

The starters, meanwhile, return four of their five players from last season and looked completely in sync in a 103-96 victory in Friday’s preseason opener at Staples Center against the Nuggets.

“We’re just so efficient, all of us, from top to bottom,” said DeAndre Jordan. “We can compete with anybody.”

Jordan led that starting group offensively, fielding lob after lob and finishing 6-of-7 with 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes of action. After just one quarter, Jordan already had six points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

“He was amazing,” said head coach Doc Rivers, “in all aspects.”

Joining that starting group was veteran Paul Pierce. Rivers said leading into the game Wesley Johnson would most likely start, but he went with the player he was most familiar with. Both players ended up getting minutes in the first quarter and finishing with five points apiece.

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In addition, both players hit an open corner 3-pointer made possible by strong ball movement. That was a trend for the small forward position last year, and with a player as familiar with Rivers’ offense as Pierce, the Clippers see no reason it can’t happen again.

Rivers even recalled a time early in the game when he wanted to run a play, and Pierce already remembered it from their days together in Boston. The transition for Pierce has been particularly smooth when it comes to learning the offense compared to some of the other new additions.

“Doc runs a certain system,” Pierce said. “I’ve played with it for 10 years, a lot of the same stuff. I’ve got a great understanding of the offense and know the spots to be in.”

By halftime, the Clippers led, 56-42, playing above the rim and forcing 16 Denver turnovers. The Clippers led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter and finished the quarter ahead by 19 points.

Then, Rivers continued to try different lineups with varying degrees of success.

As the matchup winded down, Rivers went to a smaller, backup unit and let them finish out a game which got tight late. The new-look backups showed flashes of their potential while also fighting through some struggles, which is to be expected with so many new faces and with so little of the offense installed thus far.

The talent is obvious on the second unit, but the Clippers know it’ll take time.

“I think they’re still feeling each other out,” said Chris Paul, who finished with 12 points and nine assists. “Obviously our unit, we’ve been together a while, it’s like clockwork…Those guys are going to continue to play with one another, figure each other out. They’re just so talented, they can play so many different ways.”

In the end, 13 different Clippers saw time on the floor and the backups were able to protect a lead which dwindled down to three points with less than a minute remaining.

Josh Smith led the backup unit with 13 points and eight rebounds. Austin Rivers also finished in double digits with 10 points. Austin Rivers, Smith, Stephenson and Johnson all came off the bench and played at least 20 minutes apiece.

“We’ve got new guys, we’re trying to get used to each other, trying to see where our roles at and how we fit in,” Stephenson said. “It’s the first game. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve just got to find the rhythm.”

NOTES: Paul said he likes Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, who finished with 14 points but also had eight turnovers. Paul is close with Denver head coach Mike Malone, and he could tell how excited Malone was to have him. Paul said he believes Mudiay will be “a really good guard in this league for a long time” … Cole Aldrich sprained his ankle and wasn’t available … Aldrich, Branden Dawson, Chuck Hayes and Nikoloz Tskitishvili were the only Clippers who didn’t play … The Nuggets never led in the game, despite outscoring the Clippers by 12 in the final quarter … Rivers said before the game he only had one set play in place, and he was looking more for the transition game … The Clippers will go to Vancouver next …