We missed you so much, basketball. We missed your loving companionship, we missed your thrills, and we missed your sense of wonder. What we did not miss, however, is you trying to rip a victory away from our beloved team. Yes it is only preseason, but wins are wins and winners win and losers lose or whatever coach speak thing you wanna blurt out after a meaningless preseason game. Wait, did I say meaningless? It meant everything! The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team in the league with a win and are on pace to go undefeated throughout the entire season all while never trailing for a single second. Your new overlords are here, NBA. Come and meet them!
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First things first. DeAndre Jordan looked amazing. Still can’t believe he ever even contemplated leaving this team, but they should be thankful he returned because he made a massive impact whenever he was on the court. He led all players with a plus-minus of 19, but it went way beyond that. He finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The amazing part was that he did that in just 26:27 of action. If you handed out Player of the Game for preseason games, then he’d surely get the trophy for this one. Goodness gracious what a display. Oh, almost forgot; he also made three of his five free throws.
Beyond him, the starters looked like you would expect them to look. There were moments of odd play – highlighted by Blake Griffin firing a ball five rows into the stands for no reason – and other stuff, but they looked good for the most part. Paul Pierce got the first shot attempt of the game which was a post-up against Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay. Pierce missed the shot, but it gave you a sense of the dynamic he can bring to the team. You can post him up, sit him in a corner, or have him create in the mid-range. It gives you another option.
Chris Paul was his normal self, finishing with 12 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds all while hounding Mudiay (more on him later) into turnover after turnover. We know what the guy can do. If he’s given open space, he’s killing you. He did that tonight a few times. Griffin was fine and played like he knew it was a preseason game. Don’t read too much into anything he showed you. Blake is Blake. J.J. Redick was 2-for-6 with one made three and did his usual movement stuff. He’s still fun to watch.
The starters eventually helped get the Clippers a sizable double-digit lead before the bench came in late in the third quarter to push the lead up to a game-high 21 points. That little run was spearheaded by Pablo Prigioni being a pest and heady basketball player, as well as a couple Jamal Crawford jumpers. Prigioni finished with 5 points on 2-for-6 shooting, but was definitely a plus for the team despite the minus-6 plus-minus. Crawford finished with 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting. He stayed within himself for the majority of the game.
Speaking of staying within themselves, that’s not what Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson did offensively. Look, we all know that Smith and Lance aren’t here to light the world on fire on the offensive end, but they can’t be a negative there. And that’s precisely what they were tonight. Smith was 5-for-13 and Lance was a paltry 2-for-10. Smith did do some good things, though, whenever he found himself in his optimal zones – i.e. around the rim. He did make one jumper tonight, but it was a mid-range one and the team can’t have that tandem take those shots. At one point, Lance dribbled into a stepback foot-on-the-line two. Those are bad shots, plain and simple.
Wesley Johnson is competing for the starting small forward job and played 25:57. If there’s anything to take away from his game tonight, it’s that he needs to just stand in the corner and never dribble. For the love of all that is holy, never dribble. Ever. He finished 2-for-7 with 5 points, but also had a steal and two assists. He’s never going to be what Matt Barnes was for the Clippers, but he can still be worthwhile if he doesn’t overthink things. Looks like “stay within yourself” is going to be an overarching theme this season and these bench guys have to remind themselves of that.
Lastly off the bench, Austin Rivers went 2-for-6 and had 10 points, as well as 4 steals. He hounded Mudiay into a couple successive turnovers that ultimately helped the Clippers hold on when it looked like they might blow this massive lead. The last two guys are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and C.J. Wilcox. The latter hit one of his two threes and the former had three rebounds – two on the offensive glass – and chipped in with four points (all from the line). Branden Dawson, Chuck Hayes, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili didn’t play and Cole Aldrich was out with an injury. No clue if Mbah a Moute is ahead of Dawson, but he showed he can sort of rebound. So there’s that.
In the grand scheme of things, the result of preseason games don’t matter one iota. The process is the large takeaway here. From a process standpoint, the Clippers starters seem fine as can be. Yet, when you peel back the layers and look at other areas, the bench is going to be a major headache at times. There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of ball-handlers on the court together. At one point, the team had Rivers, Crawford, Stephenson, Smith, and Jordan on the court together. They subbed Jordan out for Pierce and moved Smith to the five. There were five guys who could handle and pass. That’s not bad. What is bad, however, is that there was no ball movement. It was one-on-one stuff – primarily from Lance – and it created a bogged down offense.
Shot selection was poor from the bench unit and that’s something that’ll need to be addressed. There’s nothing wrong with one-on-one play if you’re generating good shots for yourself or others. There is something wrong with one-on-one play if you’re not doing that, though. The Clippers bench didn’t create good shots at all. There were too many deep twos, wildly missed jumpers, and hastily made decisions. Maybe this was a rust game. Maybe not. Time will tell with them. For now, the starters were good and the bench was slightly less bad than last year. At least the defense from the bench (at times) was great.
You were promised more on Mudiay and here it is. He’s going to be good. Really good. He has a knack for finding open guys with whirlwind passes that only a few guys in the league can make or even try. Yes, he only had three assists tonight and 8 turnovers. However, he also stole the show with his pinpoint passing when he settled down. It’s never easy to face Chris Paul in your first ever true test, but he eventually got his feet under him and started to play better. He finished with 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting.
Also for Denver, Wilson Chandler looked good early on and finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds. Joffrey Lauvergne was solid statistically with 16 points and 11 rebounds, as well as a massive gash above his right ear courtesy of Mbah a Moute’s tooth. Gary Harris looked great defensively, picking up 4 steals and contributing 11 points. Will Barton had 12 points and 13 rebounds and looked like a solid player out there. Nikola Jokic is a big dude and is still trying to understand some intricacies of the game, but he did have 14 points and 8 rebounds. Denver might have a steal with him if he can learn to keep the fouling down. He moves awkwardly, but he’s usually in the right place. That’s a big deal.
Kenneth Faried looked overmatched tonight, as it usually seems whenever he plays against Blake Griffin – and finished with 0 points, 4 turnovers, and 4 fouls. Not a good night for The Manimal. J.J. Hickson also had a terrible night and I hope head coach Mike Malone recognizes that you can’t play Hickson and Faried together. They’re depressing defensively. Hickson finished with 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Jordan killed him a couple times with blocks. Former Clipper Randy Foye only took four shots, but sunk both he took from three to finish with 6 points. A host of Nuggets didn’t get into the game, including Darrell Arthur, Danilo Gallinari, and Nick Johnson. Quite fond of what Denver is building, though. Especially if they let Mudiay, Harris, Chandler, Gallinari, Barton, Faried, and Nurkic grow together.
All in all, this was a Clippers win. Hooray! The team still has a lot of work to do, though. Doc Rivers can’t continue to let the bench operate with zero oversight. Rivers did say that there would be little structure tonight as far as offense was concerned, but letting it get to the level it got to was a bad idea and the kind of decision a coach needs to not make. You can’t let Lance and Josh just do whatever they want to do out there. Far too often four players were stuck above the three-point line and refusing to move while a player dribbled aimlessly just beneath the three-point line. A lot of the time, that was Lance.
It seemed like Lance’s legs were shot, yet he made a nice dribble-drive move to draw a foul late in the fourth quarter. Maybe the injury is affecting him, but the Clippers need more out of him. The unit’s defense was good, though, but Doc was right in the postgame press conference when he said the unit got too focused on their offense in the fourth quarter which is why their defense suffered. They have to bring it defensively to score offensively. Carry it over. It’s just one game. And it’s just one game in the preseason. But this is where habits are formed. Can’t get complacent already.
Up next, the team travels north of the border to play the Toronto Raptors and their host of new additions. It’s always wise to not read too much into preseason, but it’s also hard not to when you’re trying to find any semblance of information. Ultimately, the team won the game and saw their best players play like – well – their best players. The team can do great things this season. They just need to settle down and learn how to play together. And, seriously, don’t get mad at a guy for not passing to you on a fast break in the first preseason game. We’re looking at you, Lance! (Even though you were right.)