Coming into Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Clippers needed an easy victory.
In each of the team’s first five victories, the margin by which they came out on top was on average a mere seven points. Their losses have not been as narrow, particularly the 105-89 loss the team suffered in Chicago on Monday. So when the final buzzer sounded on a 114-90 domination of a young Orlando team, Doc Rivers and his squad were all smiles in the locker room as they push to hit full stride.
With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the leading rebounder in the NBA in DeAndre Jordan, you wouldn’t be blamed for being confused as to how the Clippers came into Wednesday’s contest with a record of 5-4, but inconsistency has been a theme running through the Clippers season thus far, primarily among the team’s role players.
Where the Clippers had been able to rely on guys like Caron Butler, Randy Foye or Willie Green in years past, this year it comes down to a returning contingent of JJ Redick, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford leading the second unit. In their first nine games, Barnes has struggled immensely, shooting unusually low percentages and struggling to be a player who could help the Clippers stretch the floor. But that all changed in the early going on Wednesday as Barnes got off to a hot start, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds in the team’s second stop of an eight game road trip.
“My season has gotten off to a slow start, for sure,” Barnes said. “First thing tonight I got going and just rolled with it throughout the game. I think it’s doing us some good to get away from Los Angeles. We’ve been there all season and I think you gain more camaraderie when you’re on the road for an extended period of time. It’s a good start, but it’s just one game and you can’t base too much off that. We have an identity and we have to consistently build toward that.”
The ups and downs of the season have sparked some concern in the Clippers locker room, a concern that has them weary of feeling overly positive about the night’s result against a young Orlando team they significantly outgun.
“That was one game,” Chris Paul said. “We’re trying to get to where we want to be and I think tomorrow (against Miami) will be a huge test to see if we can sustain it. Last year we lost here and in Miami so we are trying to reverse all of that.”
While they may have significantly more talent within their ranks, beating the Magic was far from a foregone conclusion. This is a Magic team that had won three of its last four and was feeling pretty good about itself before tip off. Orlando was able to rely on emerging stars Nikola Vucevic (19 points and 14 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (25 points) in this one to keep them in the game, two players Rivers referred to as “some of the best players in the league no one knows about,” but it wasn’t nearly enough thanks to a 60 point effort from the Clippers bench.
“We showed flashes of having a great bench in training camp,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “We passed up good shots tonight for great shots and when you have this many talented players, that’s important.”
Crawford would lead all Clippers scorers on the night with 22 points.
After a recent loss, both Doc Rivers and Paul spoke of a lack of trust within the Clippers squad and neither felt the ball movement had been good enough to this point in the season.
“When you see stats like how Matt (Barnes) and JJ Redick were shooting coming in, it’s a sign the ball isn’t moving,” Rivers said. “Those guys get open shots and they hit them, but if you look how we’ve been playing, they’ve had no time to shoot and they’re rushing.”
After posting 24 assists as a team, however, he and Paul left the Amway Center feeling a bit better about the team’s play.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot and tonight the ball didn’t stick,” Paul said. “We just kept moving it and finding the right guy with the right shot. We have to be consistent with that. Tonight there was a lot more trust, but tomorrow is another game.”