The Clippers lost their first two Summer League games here in Las Vegas by 26 and 29 points - and neither of thenm were as close as the final score would indicate. After getting chewed on by head coach Vinny Del Negro on Thursday morning (presumably for failing to play the right way), they had a better showing in beating the Blazers Thursday night. It was still an adventure, don't get me wrong. The Clippers managed to give away all of a 20 point lead, succumbing to some pressure defense in the fourth quarter in particular. The Clippers threw away passes in the backcourt on three separate occasions in the fourth, and would have lost the game had Luke Babbitt not missed a late free throw and a bunny at the final buzzer.
Of course, "it's only Summer League" and there's not much point in getting too excited about a win, nor too depressed about an inability to handle pressure. After the game Neil Olshey told me that they want to see improvement, and the Clippers wisely left plenty of room for that with their first two performances.
Rookie point guard Eric Bledsoe was much more under control on Thursday. After turning the ball over 17 times in the first two games, he reduced that to three in the third. Unfortunately, along with the turnovers, also missing from his game were the brief flashes of brilliance we saw on Monday. That's actually OK - he has to harness his speed, and the first step there is staying under control. One thing I want to point out about his Las Vegas stats - he has 13 rebounds in three games from the point guard spot - they Clippers could definitely use a boost on the boards from the backcourt.
Fellow rookie Al-Farouq Aminu continues to play well, if not exactly spectacularly. He's shown a better handle than I expected (though he's also tried to do too much a couple of times). He's only made a quarter of his shots here, and has a long way to go as an NBA scorer. But in that regard, he'll actually be in a better environment on the Clippers regular season squad than he is here. He'll be the fifth scoring option, shooting layups and put backs, when the regular season starts. As the first option here he's being asked to score on isos and clear outs - his game just isn't there yet. But when he has shot his jumper without hesitating, he's actually looked OK. He'll get better with more work on his mechanics, which are a little shakey right now.
DeAndre Jordan may never have an offensive move to call his own (other than catching lobs), but when he's blocking shots and rebounding as he was on Thursdays, he's a real live NBA rotation center.
Marqus Blakely was the surprise of game three. The undrafted Vermont product was in the starting lineup with Nik Caner-Medley sidelined with abadly sprained wrist. Blakely is probably the best athlete on the roster, which is saying something since several of these guys are big time athletes. He's got crazy long arms, whcich he uses to be disruptive on defense, and he runs the lane on the fast break like a gazelle. He brought some intensity to the Clippers on defense and on the offensive glass, and he has a real chance to make the team in Novemvber. He's already got his camp invite. Funny thing is, Blakely is a 6'5" guy who played power forward in college. I'm not sure who you would have called the 3 and who the 4 when he and Aminu were on the floor together. And a little disappointingly, Aminu wasn't on the floor at all for the finish,as the Clippers went small with Blakely at the four and Jeremy Richardson at the three.
The jury's still out on Willie Warren. He's shown the ability to knock down open shots, and he's played respectable defense. But he hasn't done much else.
Sitting so close to the baskets, I can tell you there is a lot of contact on every play. The Clippers have done a terrible job finishing plays around the rim, which shows in their 36% shooting percentage here. Everything has been a struggle on offense, the only easy baskets coming on fast break opportunities.