The Wednesday 7:30 pm tip for the Clippers on Prime Ticket against the Memphis Grizzlies is the first game that has mattered for the Clippers since ousting those Grizzlies from the first round of the NBA playoffs last season. An optimistic off-season highlighting more notable signings than departures and an 8 game preseason schedule including 2 against the defending champs in China concludes with the first of 82 games Wednesday.
After the 8 game preseason played over the course of January, here are 5 take-aways for Clippers fans from the preseason regarding the 2012-13 squad.
1. Wildcats are good: Eric Bledsoe came off the bench for most of the preseason and likely will do so for the whole season, but he is a starting guard in the NBA. He had 22 points, 11 assists, and was 1 steal shy of a triple double against the Lakers on Wednesday. Bledsoe played at Kentucky for one year, and despite being very talented and averaging 11 points a game as a Freshman at Kentucky, he was hardly even Robin to John Wall’s Batman. He was drafted 18 overall, and was the 4th of 5 Kentucky players drafted in the first round. Any roster in the NBA has John Calipari’s greasy hair gelled fingerprints all over it. Bledsoe is fast and explosive on both ends of the floor, and is the biggest wildcard the Clippers have in the smallest package. He is a tenacious on ball defender, and his energy coming off the bench makes a big difference for the Clips. Coming off the bench and playing starters minutes is where Eric Bledsoe should stay even though he is a starting caliber guard (point or otherwise) in the League.
2. Frontcourt issues: With Blake Griffin signed to a 5 year max extension worth $95 million, and DeAndre Jordan still locked up for 3 more years at $43 million, the Clippers front court gets more stable adding to the 2 years the pair has already played together for the Clippers. But still neither of the two can shoot free throws, and there is very questionable depth in the frontcourt as well. Jordan was 19-50 (38%) from the line in the preseason, while Griffin dialed up a far superior 18-39 (46%). The Clippers will be playing offense 3 on 5 coming down the stretch if neither can stroke it consistently. Backing them up are Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins, and Lamar Odom. Turiaf is a nice piece, but he’s no Reggie Evans, Hollins who played last season with the Celtics hustles on both ends of the floor but he is generally a poor finisher, and Odom is still an unknown factor. Odom played in 3 preseason games, which is about as many as he played with Dallas last year. Odom is the unknown factor, which is at least 1 or two notches down from WildCard.
3. Crawford came to play: Now with his 6th team in his 13 year NBA career Jamal Crawford has had stints with Chicago, New York, Golden State, Atlanta, and Portland. If you watched the Clippers preseason but didn;t know it already, Crawford can score. Like guard Mo Williams a season ago Crawford is an excellent shooter. But Crawford’s strengths lie in late game shooting ( a skill he may not exercise much with Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups on the floor), compared to Williams who could fold in crunchtime. Crawford averaged just over 13 points a game off the bench, points the Clippers will badly need come Wednesday through May.
4. Chauncey Billups DNP Coach’s Decision: That’s a subtle difference but a big upgrade from DNP Torn Achilles. Billups is a tough, rarely injured leader. He has played in more than 70 games every season since 2000 excluding last year when he suffered his torn Achilles tendon just 20 games into the season. The Clippers did pretty well without him last too, advancing to the 2nd round of the postseason, but Willie Green is not a starting NBA 2 guard. Billups official return date is still uncertain. But he has been running full speed and cutting at practice, and he hasn’t been cleared for contact yet. Look for the veteran to get worked in slowly, and not play Mike Brown starter minutes.
5. Nothing: Its NBA preseason. It means nothing. It means that the league has sold some tickets, merchandise and concessions. The players play at ½ speed and not ¾ speed, and nothing matters yet. Regardless of how much is actually “accomplished” in preseason, you can bet the Lakers are telling themselves there is nothing to worry about going 0-8 in the preseason. BUT, some of the results are an accurate predictor of standings, as Charlotte was 1-6 and Orlando 2-5 in the preseason and are certainly destined to be 2 of the worst team in the league this season.
Opening tip Wednesday October 31st 7:30 pm, Prime Ticket