Key Clippers Hit Stride As Regular Season Approaches

At Staples Center last evening, and in front of new owner Steve Ballmer, the LA Clippers pretty much went through the motions for three quarters, but then, with only 60 minutes of pre-season basketball left to get ready for games than count, the team, and specifically Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, stepped it up and showed Ballmer, Coach Doc Rivers, the Phoenix Suns, and the fans, that they were ready to take on Oklahoma City next Thursday in the season opener.

Paul and Griffin, who scored 35 and 34 points, respectively on the night, combined for 26 points in the fourth quarter, as the team erased a Suns’ lead to win by three, despite

playing without both DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. New back-up Spencer Hawes got the start in Jordan's stead, and continued his fine play, giving the Clippers more talent and depth at the center spot than the team has had in, is it years, decades, or ever? In the seven exhibition games, Hawes has averaged 25 minutes per, scoring 11.7 points, pulling down 6.4 boards, and shooting 45% on three-point attempts.
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The small forward spot continues to be the most obvious weakness in the final week of preparation and decision-making. Matt Barnes, whose intensity and defense won him the starting spot last season and who seeming is assured of keeping it, at least for the present, has had an abysmal shooting streak and even in last night’s win could only score on two free throws, but last years’ original starter and then key back-up, Jared Dudley, is gone, with Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts still vying for the role. Neither has done anything special this pre-season to win the job, but last year’s first round pick Bullock,might end up as being the guy, despite his limited playing time and sub-par shooting. Bullock has hit only five of 16 shot attempts through the pre-season, down slightly from the 35% he shot as a rookie.

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Also on the downside, Jordan Farmer missed last night's game due to back pain, and Glen Davis, with a groin strain, is still out indefinitely. Both these injuries could be major problems if they are not healed by the 30th and the opener. Davis is Griffin's relief man, and without him, that falls on Hedo Turkoglu and perhaps Ekpe Udoh. But Farmar's injury is even more significant, as the Clippers do not have a third point guard, and Doc would have to scramble to back-up CP3 with likely
Crawford and/or J.J. Redick pulling double duty.

So, while the stars appear for the most part ready to go, there are still some big questions to be answered, with only a single practice game left. As NBA rosters are trimmed, I would not be surprised to see the Clippers make a last-minute pick-up, or even two, especially if it appears that key injuries resulting in missed time will extend into the regular season.

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