DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers have been dunking the ball like crazy, but a lack of size in the front has led to major rebounding problem. Photo by Mark J. Terrell (AP)
Clippers have the pieces in place and the fan support, but they will need time to put it all together.
When the Clippers traded for Chris Paul last month, the general feeling was that Christmas had come early for the woebegone franchise.
While Lakers fans might view commissioner David Stern as a Grinch for stealing the former New Orleans Hornet from them, fans of L.A.’s “other” basketball team rejoiced.
The pairing of the All-Star point guard with young high-flyers Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had even inspired a new nickname for the potential of a regular alley-oop spectacle, “Lob City.”
How fitting that the team opened the regular season on Christmas Day in a nationally-televised game, showing off not only its new gift in Paul, but other new Clippers Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups joining Paul in the staring lineup.
The team didn’t disappoint in the season opener, beating the Golden State Warriors in Oakland by 19 points. But the new look Clippers soon looked like the same old Clippers, as the San Antonio Spurs defeated them by 25 points.
Even with that loss, Clipper fans packed Staples Center to get a first look at this new and improved team, and for the first time since they moved to Los Angeles they sold all of their season tickets.
Clipper fans rocked Staples Center from the opening tip off for their game against the Chicago Bulls, and what did they get? The same old Clippers. The Bulls pulled away in the second half for a 13-point victory.
The team was able to even its record to 2-2 after beating the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, but even in the victory signs of concern were present.
In that New Year’s Day victory the Clippers not only had 21 turnovers, but they allowed the Blazers to score 36 points in the fourth quarter. Such is the case for a team full of new faces trying to find cohesion in the aftermath of a lockout-shortened season and condensed training camp.
Compounding matters is the groin injury to Billups, although he has played through the pain.
On the bright side the new-look Clippers have definitely lived up to their “Lob City” billing as Griffin and Jordan have combined for 21 dunks through the first four games of the season.
Not just a dunker, Jordan has improved defensively, blocking 15 shots in the team’s first four games.
However, more time is needed for the team to gel as a whole. A week of training camp is not nearly enough time for players to understand each others’ tendencies. The results are defensive lapses, bad passes and confusion. Through the first four games the team is averaging 13.5 turnovers per game.
Whatever early growing pains the Clippers go through will mostly be experienced in front of the home crowd, as 12 of the team’s 15 January games will be played at Staples Center.
The trading away of center Chris Kaman and the free agency defection of power forward Craig Smith left the team thin in the frontcourt. The team signed forward Reggie Evans on Dec. 22 to help resolve this issue, though he has yet to play due to a right foot sprain.
More help appears on the way, as the team has reportedly acquired another free agent big man.
Forward Solomon Jones was signed to a non-guaranteed contract. The former second round pick in the 2006 NBA Draft averaged career highs in minutes (13.5) and rebounds (2.9) last season with the Indiana Pacers.
The Clippers can certainly use Jones’ length (6’10”) and Evans’ brawn. Through the first four games this season the team has been losing the rebounding battle, 45.5 to 35.5.
Yet the team will ultimately go as far as Paul takes them. Clippers fans certainly hope that the early Christmas feeling they got with his acquisition lasts well into the new year.
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