This was never going to be a simple journey under the most normal of circumstances, not after the Clippers traded for a coach, that coach immediately began looking into planning a championship parade – for the Clippers – and Doc Rivers took to saying he saw some Bill Russell in DeAndre Jordan. Talk about daring the heavens to come crashing down.
And now that there have been challenges, so what? Important reserve Matt Barnes missed 18 games with leg and eyes problems, starting shooting guard J.J. Redick was out 21 with a hand/wrist injury, superstar point guard Chris Paul is at 15 and counting because of a separated shoulder, there has been a transition to a new coach and system, rebounding is a problem … and yet they’re actually in a good place.
The Clippers are 34-17 as the All-Star break approaches, in fourth place in the Western Conference, three games out of second, on pace for 55 wins, and peeking through the wreckage to find that no one in the standings has run away from them. For all the problems, there aren’t any.
Quite the opposite. In that locker room, the first half of the season is being embraced and even welcomed as challenging times that will make them better in the second half of building momentum to the playoffs. A little spin control, sure, but also a lot of reality knowing that a good training room will solve what has been the biggest problem.
“I really don’t know what the negatives are,” Rivers said. “I look at our record and our team, I like our team. I love where we’re at. I love the adversity. I think it’s good for us. I think it’ll make us better. I think everything that we’ve gone through, there’s not a negative thing that’s happened. It’ll help team toughness and mental toughness and trusting everybody on the team as a player. I think all that’ll come into play. I think everything’s been good.
“If you’re going to be playing in March, April, May and June, tough things are going to happen. It’s not going to be an easy road; otherwise everyone would do it. Any kind of adversity is a good thing. I think that’s how you should look at it.”
Even with the injuries? Even with long stretches of missed opportunity for a team with several prominent new faces to find a rhythm?
“Yeah, even with that,” Rivers said. “Because other guys are playing. It’s forced our staff to do things differently. I think it’s all good. To me, this is a new group. I think just throwing us in there and trying to figure stuff out on the fly, trusting each other, it’s been a very good thing for us.”
The contenders for the West title at the start of the season still are. Now the Clippers need the stability of a preferred starting lineup, which could happen with Paul’s return in the next week or maybe just after the All-Star break, and also to ride out the current mean-spirited schedule. Seriously, a seven-game Eastern swing (5-2), coming home for one against the Wizards (win), going back out to Oakland (loss), returning to Staples Center for the Jazz (win), and turning around again to go to Denver (loss). They haven’t been in the same city twice in a row since a four-game homestand ended Jan. 15.
And yet, 34-17.
“We know the second half of the year we’re going to be better than we were the first half, with or without injuries,” said Jared Dudley, one of the key offseason acquisitions. “Just because of getting used to each other, getting used to Doc Rivers and how he coaches the schemes.”
They still have about three months before the playoffs. They still have a real chance, and not just to get to know each other.