HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has a decidedly different approach to preseason basketball than his Los Angeles Lakers’ counterpart.
While Mike Brown isn’t worried about his team’s 0-6 preseason record, Del Negro demands that his crew treat every dress rehearsal like the real thing.
“You get paid to play and you get paid to win, I don’t care if it’s exhibition or not, you have to compete,” Del Negro told reporters after Monday night’s win over the Golden State Warriors. “If you’re not willing to compete and put it out there, you’re not a competitive person and those are not the type of people I want around here. … I understand it’s an exhibition game but when you play your minutes, play the right way so we can get better. If you don’t want to, you can come sit with me.”
Both sides will have main players sitting with the coaches when the Clippers and Lakers square off tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Lakers star Kobe Bryant is set to rest his sore foot and Del Negro has talked about resting his starters for the preseason version of the Staples Center Classic.
That means tonight’s game could turn into a battle of the benches, and that’s one fight where the deeper Clippers’ appear to have an advantage over their city rivals. A roll call of the Clippers’ reserves — Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Chauncey Billups (who will return from a torn Achilles tendon sometime next month or in December) — highlights an explosive supporting cast of talented players all capable of playing multiple positions.
They are playing without Hill, Odom and Billups right now, all three are nursing or recovering from injuries, and still producing at a high level.
“We have like a second-and-a-half unit,” Barnes said. “We really have a very deep team and once we get everybody healthy and at full steam at practice, it’s going to be great.”
The biggest offseason splashes for the Clippers came early in the signing period as they traded for Odom and signed Crawford and Hill and picked up Hollins, Turiaf and Willie Green. The signing of Barnes was the last move the team made before the start of training camp but has been paying the biggest dividends in the preseason.
Barnes had a game-high 22 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the Clippers’ loss to Utah last week and had 11 points, six rebounds and two steals in a win over the Miami Heat in China. He also has made presence felt as an enforcer when he nearly got into a fight with Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll when Carroll tried to get in Barnes’ face after a hard foul.
“I talked to the whole team that we fear nobody,” Barnes said. “Teams need to fear us because of our depth and talent. We can’t be awed by anybody. We can’t allow our guys to get beat up. We just have to clean all that up.”
Barnes, who lockered down the hallway at Staples Center last season with the Lakers, seems to personify the Clippers’ revamped bench mob. He’s always been more than willing to serve as the feisty member of whatever team he’s on.
The Lakers would win anyone’s battle of marquee starters. Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace could win that five-on-five over just about any other starting five in basketball anywhere on the planet.
But the Clippers’ are up to the challenge in a game that includes full rosters, and we all know that Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Co. have been gearing up since last season for another shot at not only bragging rights in the arena and the Southland, but in the Western Conference standings, too.
In a season that most people figured would be all about the Lakers, the Clippers just might have a little something to say about that …