HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What the Los Angles Clippers are doing is just as impressive in person as it is from afar. Seriously, do you have any idea how difficult it is in the NBA to win every night with a schedule that is unrelenting and competition that, for the most part, is as tight as you could get on a given night?
The Clippers do and have managed their league-best 17-game win streak masterfully.
Does it mean they’ve arrived among the NBA’s truly elite? We won’t know that for sure until sometime in late April or early May, when this group fights off the pressure in the playoffs and advances without playing their very best. Does it mean they have officially replaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the top hoops draw in their own city? Of course, not. Lakers fans will simply remind you to look up in the rafters at Staples Center and start counting the banners.
But if this streak proves anything at all, it’s that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has figured out the best way to avoid the dreaded coaching hot seat he seemed to be on every other night when his team wasn’t winning all the time. In fact, he’s rarely been mentioned, good or bad, during the streak. And that’s probably the way he’d like to keep it.
The laws of NBA gravity suggest that this streak will have to end sometime soon. A grueling stretch of schedule that has the Clippers walking on hot coals — in Denver on Tuesday, the Nuggets are 9-1, in Oakland to face Golden State the next night, and then back in Los Angeles for another round of the City Championship series against the Lakers on Friday, followed the next night by a visit from the Warriors — just to survive the next six days.
It’s certainly doable for a team that went 16-0 this month. But adding four more wins this week against that schedule would be grounds for an investigation into extra-terrestrial assistance for a franchise that has never experienced the kind of hoops high the Clippers are these days.
Which brings us right back to Del Negro, whose navigated this mercurial stretch seamlessly. He’s allowed the Clippers’ entire cast of characters to play their roles to perfection. All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the way, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan do some of the heavier lifting when they need to, as Butler did in Sunday’s win over the Utah Jazz with 29 points, while the league’s best bench (Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe and the boys) continue to crash open close games with their wave on non-stop energy.
You don’t win 17 straight games without someone knowing when to and when not to push, as Crawford told the Orange County Register after No. 17:
“Everybody here has a decent body of work in some way shape or form,” Crawford said. “They’ve proven something somewhere in the NBA. With that is a confidence that a player has, and there are egos involved.”For him to be able to manage that and put people in the right positions and use people to their strengths, he deserves a lot of credit.”
Del Negro has juggled a rotation full of veterans without much drama, but he’s established roles for everyone from Paul to Ryan Hollins.
“Guys get frustrated sometimes not playing as much, but it’s about the team winning games,” Del Negro said.
One thing Del Negro has done is allow players to operate in their areas of strength.
“He just tells me to be me. It’s been awhile since I was told to just be me,” Ronny Turiaf said. “I think it goes back to the Laker days when Phil (Jackson) told me, ‘Ronny, just go out there and play. I trust your basketball I.Q. I trust your basketball knowledge to be able to make plays for us.'”
Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said managing a roster with so many guys who are capable could present challenges down the road.
“It’s difficult. It’s a good and a bad thing to be in,” Corbin said. “Guys want to play, especially good guys who have had great careers and still think they have something to offer. Things are going well so they all want to be a part of it. It’s easier to manage their minutes, when things are going well.”
Said Crawford of Del Negro: “For him to have the pulse of the team and feel the team and the stuff he draws up, he has us believing we can win every single day.”
Do it every single day this week and someone can toss Del Negro’s hot seat into the ocean sometime late Saturday night!