Though it was far from an emphatic win, especially considering that the opponent had lost five straight pre-season games coming in, there was still plenty of good news from the Los Angeles Clippers' 103-99 pre-season win over the Utah Jazz in STAPLES Center Wednesday night.
The best news of all was that J.J. Redick, one of the key off-season acquisitions in L.A., made his debut with the team, scoring 14 points. Although he was far from razor sharp, the Clippers offense did as expected and generated myriad open looks for their new shooting guard. Redick finished 4-12, but could easily have made three or four more shots at least. When any NBA player misses a wide open 12 footer -- a shot I'd be mad at myself for missing -- you're a bit surprised. When Redick misses that shot, it's downright shocking. But that's what happens in a player's first real game in six months. If the offense can continue to create those same looks, J.J. is going to have a very good year in L.A.
And that more or less sums up my feelings about this game: the Clippers shot less than 40 percent from the field, but a lot of those were just flat out misses. Some nights you just don't shoot well -- as long as the team is getting good looks, it's not really that big a problem if they're not going down. It's certainly not a problem in pre-season.
Saturday against Denver the Clippers relied on Chris Paul's individual brilliance to bail them out, as Paul went for 40 points and forced the game into overtime with a heroic fourth quarter. Against the Jazz, Paul was 3-8 for 14 points and handed out 10 assists in just 27 minutes -- a very competent game, but nothing extraordinary, and he didn't even play in the fourth.
I continue to be pleased with DeAndre Jordan's progress on the defensive end, and it's not just the blocked shots, of which he had only one tonight. Utah center Enes Kanter possesses some old school moves and employs excellent footwork, and on the third play of the game, he got Jordan to bite on an upfake and went past him easily for a layup -- a sight all too familiar for those of us who've watched Jordan during his first five years in the league, as he tends to be over eager and a tad gullible on the defensive end, always jumping out of position. But the next several times Kanter got the ball, Jordan showed much more discipline, staying down and sealing him off from the basket. It was as if he relapsed for that early play, but then remembered what Doc Rivers has been telling him after that.
On the roster watch, Lou Amundson put in an interesting cameo in the fourth quarter in his quest to secure the Clippers' 15th and final roster spot. Amundson's non-stop activity resulted in four offensive rebounds -- and four personal fouls -- in just six and a half minutes. Those are some really big per 36 numbers on both counts. It may be tough to keep Amundson off this team, simply because they don't have anyone else on the bench who does the sort of dirty work that he does, for good or for ill.
The bad news is that the Clippers were crushed on the glass, 57-43 -- and that's not the first time this pre-season they've been badly outrebounded. Derrick Favors, looking like he is worth every cent of the $49M contract extension he signed last week, did a lot of that damage, with 17 boards to go along with 24 points in a monster performance. Utah's project center, the ultra-long Rudy Gobert from France, made a nice impression with 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in just 20 minutes. You can't teach length, but if you could, Gobert would get an A+.
In addition to Redick, Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock also made his season debut, but wasn't able to do much in just five minutes. With Redick and Bullock getting their feet wet, that leaves Matt Barnes as the only Clipper yet to play this pre-season, but hopefully we'll get to see him at least a little on Friday in the exhibition finale.
The Clippers offense under Doc Rivers certainly features a lot more movement than it did last year under Vinny Del Negro. It isn't exactly firing on all cylinders yet, but one gets the impression that it's only a matter of time. The team has been through scoring droughts in the pre-season, but for the most part they've been the result of missed shots (or in some cases wonky makeshift lineups) rather than stagnation or lack of execution. When this group really gets into a groove, they're going to score at will. Let's just hope that will be sooner in the regular season as opposed to later.
Whether they can stop opponents or rebound well enough remains to be seen.