Scouting the Opposition: L.A. Clippers
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: Blake Griffin missed Team USA duty this offseason after injuring his knee during the playoffs, and he’s talked about elbow pain bothering him this season. What is his health status? Does the team have any concerns long-term?
Eric Patten: Griffin had surgery in July to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee, but was back on the court well before training camp opened at the end of September. He participated in group workouts and spent a good deal of the summer working on his perimeter shooting and foul shooting, among other things.
When he arrived for the team’s first official practice, he sort of alleviated any concern outside media members may have had about his knee saying, “I feel great. I’m ready to go. I don’t have any restrictions, which was what I pretty much hoped for and knew it was coming, but in the back of my mind it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
He participated in the duration of camp and the preseason. Vinny Del Negro rested him, along with Willie Green and Caron Butler, during one preseason game in Utah, but it was a healthy scratch.
As for the elbow injury, it’s basically a non-story. He’s dealt with it throughout his career, including college, and knows how to play through it. In that respect, Griffin’s said his elbow is feeling better than it did a few weeks ago.
Hawks.com: Hawks fans are certainly aware of the impact Jamal Crawford can have coming off the bench, and he’s seemingly back to his old tricks for LA so far, leading the team in scoring despite not starting a single game. Do you see him keeping that up for the season?
EP: From everything Crawford says and does, I don’t see him falling off. I watched him after practice in Oklahoma City make about 13 straight 3-pointers in a shooting competition with several teammates. He’s locked in.
The differences between Crawford this year and last season are two-fold. He says he’s comfortable in L.A., his teammates and the coaching staff have given him confidence and he’s repaying them with arguably the most effective first 10 games of his career. Secondly, he dedicated himself to getting better this offseason. He said that his performance last season in Portland left a “bad taste” in his mouth and he was motivated by that the entire summer.
Crawford said he came into the team facility earlier in the summer than he ever has and it’s showing on the court and with the connection he has with his teammates.
Hawks.com: Lamar Odom infamously washed out in Dallas last season, but always seems to respond well when playing in Los Angeles. What are the team’s expectations for him?
EP: Odom has talked at length about the off-the-court tragedies that greatly affected him last year, but as far as what the organization expects from him, here’s what Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks said: “We expect him to be the player that he was throughout his career. He’s a guy I think can be a Sixth Man of the Year again. He’s done that and he’s versatile and he can do a lot of things on the basketball court that can help us. We didn’t have that versatility in the frontcourt last year. I expect him to be every bit as good as he’s ever been and I think he’s going the fit in with our team, with these guys perfectly.”
Odom has been asked, repeatedly, what player he will be this year, the one from Dallas or the one who put together essentially 10 to 11 years of well-rounded, dynamic basketball. He says, “[You’re going to get] the Lamar who put the six or seven or eight year string of good ball together. I mean, I’ve played well more than I’ve played bad, but people tend to remember what happened last.”
In the early stages of the season, Odom’s minutes have been limited as he works his way back from bothersome knees in training camp. But he is maintaining patience in his approach in order to hopefully make be more effective over the long haul.
Hawks.com: In addition to Odom and Crawford, the Clippers added veterans Grant Hill, Willie Green, and Matt Barnes in the offseason. With the kind of talent the team now has on board, what do you see as a realistic postseason goal?
EP: Obviously, the goal is a championship. The start the team has gotten off to, matching the best in franchise history, is a testament to that goal. They have defeated five of the top six seeds in last year’s playoffs, including the defending champions and the usually indomitable Spurs (twice).
When Chauncey Billups re-signed this offseason he said one of his reasons in coming back was to “do things the right way.” I find it hard to believe a decorated veteran and Finals MVP, who certainly had other options, would have elected to return had he not felt strongly about the Clippers’ place among the contenders. The team is arguably deeper than anyone in the league, proven by the league-leading 40-plus bench points per night, and is anchored by a roster filled with veterans, players in their prime and up-and-comers like DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that MVP candidate Chris Paul and All-Star Blake Griffin are the two cornerstones.
Odom, who won titles in consecutive seasons with the Lakers, said, “This team is built to compete against the best teams in the NBA. If we were to play a seven-game series against one of the best teams in the NBA, I would expect us to compete. We expect to win here.”
And the praise has come from elsewhere, too. Erik Spoelstra said he views the Clippers as title contenders and Gregg Popovich, Dwyane Wade and Carlos Boozer have recently talked about the high level in which the Clippers are competing on both ends of the floor.
The Hawks and Clippers tip-off Saturday night at 7:00 at Philips Arena.