Preview: Things To Watch In Preseason Opener
All summer, head coach Doc Rivers and the players he assembled have referenced the talent and the versatility of the new-look Clippers.
For the first time this year, they’ll get to see what it all looks like against an opponent in Friday’s preseason home opener at 7:30 p.m. against the Nuggets.
“I can’t wait to see what we actually have,” Rivers said. “It looks good, but I can’t wait to see us. The game takes on such a different emotion, and the emotional part is part of how you have to play too. I think you see more once the games start.”
While Rivers is primarily referencing regular season games, the preseason is where the Clippers players can finally start to get into their routines. Blake Griffin said preseason’s exciting to get to go against another team, but he also knows there’s a lot left to work on and they games won’t start counting until the end of the month.
“You kind of can go back and forth with it, but it’ll be fun to see what it looks like going against somebody else,” Griffin said.
THINGS TO WATCH
- Small Ball?
Apart from having a backup unit that can challenge the starters in practice, one of the intriguing parts of the versatility and depth of this year’s group is the small-ball backup lineup. It was common in training camp for forward Josh Smith to play at center with the second unit, while Paul Pierce or Wesley Johnson would play as the power forward with a group of guards that always included Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and Lance Stephenson.
“Our small lineup is not that small, when you think about it,” Doc Rivers said. “Paul’s not that small. The three guards with the second unit, they’re all 6-5. It’s not like it’s a miniature lineup. You could make a case that they have post-up advantages at their positions.”
J.J. Redick said the three backup guards together present plenty of challenges and provide a trio of players who can create for themselves and for others. They also bring size, as Doc Rivers noted, which is one of the other advantages to the additional depth. The Clippers can go small, or they can even go big, should they choose. Rivers said if he wanted, he could put together a lineup with Stephenson, Smith, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
“That’s a gigantic lineup,” Rivers said. “You can go a lot of ways with that as well.”
- Small Forward
Doc Rivers said Johnson will “most likely” start at small forward in the preseason opener.
Throughout training camp, Doc Rivers has switched up the lineups, putting both Johnson and Paul Pierce at small forward at different times. The head coach said he hasn’t made a decision on which player will start at small forward during the regular season, and it could vary on different nights as he tries to limit Pierce’s minutes before the playoffs.
In Pierce, Johnson and Stephenson, Doc Rivers has three legitimate options to start at the position. He said at camp he’d prefer to keep Stephenson with the bench unit this year.
- Who’s Out?
While the Clippers got out of training camp relatively unscathed, Lance Stephenson was dealing with a sore groin and Austin Rivers rolled his ankle late in camp.
Stephenson’s ailment is specifically osteitis pubis, or inflammation of the pubic bone, and while it’s limited his minutes, it never kept him fully out of camp practices. Doc Rivers described Austin Rivers’ ankle injury as more of a leg whip, and Doc Rivers hasn’t decided whether or not their minutes will be limited in the preseason opener.
Both Austin Rivers and Stephenson were on the court shooting following Thursday’s practice.
- Moving On – Some players keep last season’s bitter ending close by. Austin Rivers said he hasn’t moved on from last year and that everywhere he goes, that’s all people think about. He uses that as fuel, but he also knows teams in the West can’t look too far ahead or they risk not making the playoffs at all.
Others have put last season’s ending behind.
“Yeah, I’ve moved on,” Griffin said. “You learn from it. This offseason, kind of tried to study it a little more, just the way everything went down. It’s one of those things, you can’t just ignore it and block it out. You want to learn from it. But once you’ve learned from it and think you’ve gained everything from the experience, you move on.”
- Back To Normal – Griffin said while these games don’t count, now is the time to start getting back into the swing of things and building a similar routine to what he would do prior to regular season games. In addition, he said every player’s trying to learn what everyone else’s routine will be.
“It might not be the exact same, but I treat preseason games just like regular games,” Griffin said.
Redick said he wants to build his habits now, so he’ll also go through all his normal game-day antics as if it were a regular season game.
“Extra shots, cold plunge after shoot around, eating when I eat, all of that stuff,” Redick said. “We only have six preseason games this year, and two of them are in China.”