Okay, maybe more than a few. Felt a strong confidence dip, as the squad showed that they have some flaws. I'm shocked, shocked, I say. Good reality check. Even more sobering to read the Zach Lowe preview this morning, where he has the Clippers in the second tier and behind the Grizzlies, and I could only nod my head and say he's not wrong about what the issues with the team are. But we'll see.
DJ was the headliner, and we got to see him react to all of this bluster and confidence-building. It was fun, but it's hardly sustainable, and even during the game we saw a dip as Robin Lopez, getting badly punked in the first 6 minutes, asserted himself and played tough and cleaned up a lot of offensive glass (and what about Sideshow's little free throw move, where he faces the bench with one foot in and one foot out of the circle, then turns and takes the ball and fires it up with no touch or finesse.) There's plenty of film for DJ to look at about positioning and reacting, if you fast forward past the highlight reel plays. He has said repeatedly that he only cares about defense and rebounding first, second, and third, but you could tell that his ease and success on offense turned his head a little bit, and he lost a tad of energy and focus on defense. He tried to do stuff on offense a couple of times, which isn't bad, but in the cases where nothing was there right away it'd be better for him to move the ball and get some flow going. But his conditioning was phenomenal. It was pretty amusing to see Mike Smith turn his Maggette mancrush goggles towards DJ, pushed giddily along by Ralph. Lopez can't shoot like his brother, but he isn't chopped liver when it comes to 5 spot athleticism, and DJ showed that he's at a higher level, that he has Dwight Howard chops at this point. DJ's ability to run the floor and make plays was mostly highlighted, however, by the comparison to the plodding Mulligan. But we'll get to that in a second. Sigh.
Solid A, however, on the most important element of the game: DJ's free throws and stroke. Missed the A+ when the 5th one didn't go. The adjustment is that he's doing a single dribble, and getting right into it. Maybe it short-cuts thinking about it. But combined with the blocks and rebounds and strong finishes, it adds up to a stunning display of firepower. Getting off to a fast start, putting made shots in the bank so that he can afford some misses, is crucial, and this was beyond hopes and expectations. Just showing an ability to make 4 in a row at all makes a big difference, completely the other side of the coin to the weakness of missing them in big bunches. DJ's preseason FT percentage is a big issue for the Clips. And Griffin seemed to be stalling for a half-beat at the top of his motion, but they went in. The Clips shot 83% from the stripe, and that included a missed T by Darren Collison, who stepped up instead of Crawford.
The Mulligan certainly lived up to his name, didn't he? Let's just do that one over. When they go in we're going to love this guy, but last night, not so much. You can't say it's a lost cause after one preseason game, because shooters have to find game rhythm. It was funny how Milph got into the whole thing about what ever happened to taking it easy over the summer and showing up to training camp to get in shape? Ralph piped in that it wasn't that long ago that things were that way. The very high level of conditioning evidenced by DJ is a huge difference maker, and it was reminiscent of FElton's stunning leap before the O5-06 campaign. None of the shooters, Dudley, Crawford, and even the magnificent Willie Green looked especially sharp from deep.
I think part of the problem for Mullens was on the catch. He was wide open but he put the ball up quickly and didn't seem to have a clean grip very often. It was kind of nice to see him pass up the shot in the second half more than a few times. The issue is that other side of the coin from DJ's fast start free throw shooting: Mully's already got a nice hole going, just to get to 30%. He needs to go on a good streak. He can't get any better shots than he had last night, but he can have a better catch and better rhythm and he could make them. But we can live with a slow start in preseason from deep. The bummer was that his athleticism was poor, and he doesn't run well or have any quickness or hops, negating his length, which was never in evidence. Part of it is comparison to DJ and Lopez, but the plenty-stiff Portland backup bigs had better motors than Mullens. Mully's moment in the spotlight as the first big off the bench was an all-out disaster. We'll see how it goes, but I'm not opposed at all to giving that spot to Hollins, and pushing Mully back behind RyHo and Jamison, who did basic Jamison stuff in his debut, and looked okay. But c'mon guys, this is Mulligan. Let's just try it again, like that game never happened, shall we?
Kind of a good thing sitting Redick and Barnes. Retains a little mystery, keeping parts of the palate pristine. Barnes was missed, part of the sobering equation above. But Redick's absence was bliss, as it allowed us to remember our love for the quiet storm that is Mr. Willie Green. Green was superb, doing all sorts of Willie Green things. I already want to get him more minutes, even though it clearly makes a lot less sense than last year. The way that Willie Green's game made a nice leap and he went on a 3pt tear in last chunk of minutes at the end of last season is a bittersweet memory, but it shows that he's more than meets the eye. After last night it takes me a minute to remember that a lot of those 60 starts last year were infuriating and should have been trimmed significantly, because those were games that Bledsoe didn't start, and Willie Green was mediocre in many of them. Any way that you look at it, however, the guy is a nice piece. And it would be amusing to see him tear up preseason and put pressure on Redick for the starting spot. Okay, maybe not. I'm looking forward to seeing Redick. And the question where would the Clippers be without Matt Barnes was answered last night: they aren't nearly as energetic or good, and he was sorely missed coming off the bench. Dudley wasn't especially impressive, and he will be better when Barnes is challenging him and taking his minutes, at least that's my guess. If Barnes is banged up and misses games this season, it won't be good.
You know what else I didn't like? I didn't love the Collison and Crawford combination, but that might have been affected by missing Barnes and also by the Mulligan. Bledsoe's bledsoeness was a fantastic complement to Crawford's crawfordity. On the whole Collison looks to be a premier backup, and we can give Crawford all sorts of time to find his mojo; it doesn't have to be around during the preseason, that's for sure. The same goes for the Griffin and Paul of it all. Those guys need to show up next month for the tough early season schedule, and then still be around for April showers. We saw enough to remember that they're who they are. Last night was about getting out of the way, of DJ's antics above the rim, and Byron Mullens' raining bricks.