IRVINE, CA-The Los Angeles Clippers are going to be a physical bunch this year. Count on it. Watching the team’s open practice to the public on Saturday at UC Irvine, there was a lot of fun and camaraderie going on between the first and second units.
The entertainment was great. Fans attending the two 10-minute halves got the opportunity to see what they could expect during the regular season. What they can expect is much more physicality from the team Doc Rivers has built.
Sure, the Clippers are a team that likes to fastbreak at any given moment, but pounding people is likely to be their makeup for the 2016-17 NBA season. The Clippers’ offseason acquisitions of center Marreese Speights, forward Brandon Bass and gritty Raymond Felton affirms this.
Speights and Bass are brawlers who can kick some butt and take names later. They are not afraid to mix it up with anybody. Felton is about as rugged as they come at the point guard position. All three men give the Clippers an edge they haven’t been accustomed to.
It’s something that’s needed. Lob City is great, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you’re getting your tails kicked in the paint and getting beat up on the perimeter. That could change this season for the Clippers.
Teams trying to get under Blake Griffin’s skin with verbal jabs and over-the-top, physical play, might have to have to re-access that strategy. Mess with Griffin this season, and you’re liable to get clocked. That’s because he’s got backup in the form of those Popeye forearms Bass carries around with him, and Speights’ intimidating presence backing down folks.
That’s not to mention center DeAndre Jordan operating as Griffin’s personal shadow when he’s out on the floor. Big guys rule, but guard Chris Paul runs the show. And we know for a fact that Paul doesn’t back down to anyone. The Clippers are thirsty for a deep run in the postseason.
Going hardcore jut might be the thing to help them get there. Of course, there are lingering questions that many people have about the team that needs to be answered.
Is Griffin fully recovered from from his nagging quad injury that derailed his season a year ago? Would there be any affects the first time he decided to go over the top and hammer down one of his signature dunks? What about taking jump shots?
Will Paul be really ready to go? The last time fans saw Paul was on a television screen when he broke his right hand in the team’s Round 2, Game 4 playoff loss to the Portland Trailblazers. Then there are the questions that hang over the Clippers’ bench.
Does Paul Pierce have enough gas left in the tank? Has the small forward position been solidified? What kind of ballplayer should fans expect to see from Speights, a Golden State Warriors reserve? Will Austin Rivers continue progressing as a full-throttle offensive threat?
One practice session is not going to remedy those questions. But it gives an outside peep into the expectations the team has this season. With just about everyone clamoring all over the Warriors and the pick up addition of Kevin Durant, the Clippers have been almost running under the radar as the NBA season gets underway.
The widely-held assumption is that with Durant in the mix, the Warriors are now the league’s next great super team. According to multiple media reports, everybody else is in the running for finishing second in the Western Conference.
But that is why you play the games. Nothing in life is guaranteed. There’s nothing guaranteed about Golden State winning the title. Better yet, the Clippers and some of the other Western Conference powers will have a say on whether or not the Warriors even reach the title round.
The Warriors’ supposedly lock on the couple of NBA Finals is not etched in stone. Didn’t we see this picture play out when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers knock off the record-breaking Warriors to win the NBA championship in June?
Now, let’s get back to the Clippers. Doc Rivers teams are always gritty, tough and play that grind-me-out type of ball. Splash and dash is fine, but a good post-up game gives you sustainability. That’s why Pierce still has a roster spot in the league and other superstars of his genre have retired.
The Clippers are still young enough where they can still get up and down the floor with other teams. However, Paul, Griffin, Jordan and the rest of the team are going to have to pick and choose this battle carefully.
The Clippers’ depth and experience should be enough to offset the energy of younger teams. Depth is no longer regulated to going to a seven-man roster. As the Warriors have shown the last couple of seasons, placing two capable units on the floor makes this era a different kind of NBA. With their roster as it stands, the Clippers can go 10 strong without any major hiccups.
That could prove to be the difference from the Clippers fading out in the second round of the postseason or playing in the NBA Finals.