Are the Clippers Ready to Meet the Lakers in Five Days?

As the NBA regular season approaches, nagging injuries are resolving, new players are meshing, and young veterans appear to be improving, as the new darlings of the LA Media, the Los Angeles Clippers and new coach Doc Rivers, prepare for opening day against the Lakers.

The team that got to the second round of the 2012-13 playoffs and then replaced its coach, two starters, and much of its bench, have high hopes for this coming season, but as I wrote when these moves were made, while Rivers is a proven entity, I don’t know that personnel wise the team has really improved.

It remains to be seen whether or not Jared Dudley will be an improvement at small forward over Caron Butler, and while J.J. Redick will hopefully play a lot more than last years starters at shooting guard, Chauncey Billups and Willie Green, top sub Jamal

Blake Griffin Wall Graphic

Crawford had a sensational year, and more time to Redick means less time for their most prolific scorer, Crawford.

A partially torn left quadriceps kept Redick from the court through most of the Clippers preseason schedule, but he made the most of his debut last night against Utah, scoring 14 points in 19 minutes, including three-of-seven three-pointers.

At the three spot, hopefully much of the time, especially when games are on the line, it will be Matt Barnes there, rather than Dudley. However, due to injuries, Barnes still has not really practiced and time is getting short for him to be ready for Tuesday’s opener. Doc has said that he needs to practice by this weekend at the latest to be ready to play Tuesday.

The Clippers acquired Redick and Dudley in a trade with Phoenix, giving up a guy that should have been an untouchable, Eric Bledsoe. However, the new backup at point guard is their single best acquisition, Darren Collison, who, like Bledsoe, should be starting somewhere in the NBA. Collison has had a sensational preseason, averaging 16 points per game, and 24 per game in 29 minutes per game over the last three. He has also hit 47% on threes through the preseason.

If the team is to improve over last season, they need overall improvement from the guy who seems to be Rivers’ pet project, center DeAndre Jordan. Doc has said that Jordan has to become THE guy on defense, and significantly improve his abysmal free throw shooting, which was at an

astoundingly low 39% last season. That even made the Ego Man look good. It looks like the team will have two seven-footers each capable of playing 10-15 minutes backing up Jordan, in rhyming twins Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens.

Last season, the Clippers established themselves as a dominant defensive force. One of the keys was Bledsoe, and it is remains to be seen whether or not Collison can match his defensive level. More minutes from Jordan than last year’s 24 per game would help on defense, but if the team keeps the one-dimensional, over-the-hill Antawn Jamison on the roster, that will significantly hurt the defense. As the final cuts come, he needs to go. Had draft pick Reggie Bullock not missed almost all of the preseason with a knee injury, he would certainly have displaced Jamison in Clipper plans, and if Bullock is not ready to start the season, I could imagine Jamison holding Bullock’s spot until he is fully healthy.

Were Kobe Bryant healthy, I’d pick the Lakers in the season opener. With him out, and with the likelihood that Jamie Meeks will be starting in his place. I’d expect the Clippers to win on Tuesday.

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