Chauncey Billups done for season, but not Clippers
BY J. MICHAEL FALGOUST Gannett February 8, 2012 10:16AM
Guard Chauncey Billups is done for the season with a left Achilles tear, but that doesn’t mean these Los Angeles Clippers accept a dropoff in play as their fate.
Despite injuries to Billups, mega acquisition Chris Paul and reserve guards Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe that total 31 games lost, the Clippers are in second place in the Western Conference at 15-7 entering today’s game at the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and outshining their Staples Center co-tenants, the sixth-place Los Angeles Lakers (14-11).
And just like the Lakers, the Clippers will send two starters to the All-Star Game on Feb. 26: Paul (third in assists) and forward Blake Griffin (second in dunks, according to cbssports.com), the Lob City tandem.
“We all know each other’s game. We had to figure out how to work in tune with everybody else,” said Paul, who has led the team to wins in six of the eight games since his return from having a strained hamstring.
The Clippers’ last winning season was 2005-06 -- one of only two since the move from San Diego for 1984-85. The team needed 40 games last season to reach 15 wins. But that was before the injection of talent and spirit that Paul provides, with the muscle from Griffin and improved young center DeAndre Jordan.
“We haven’t been together that long,” coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday of newcomers Billups, Paul, forward Reggie Evans and forward Kenyon Martin, the latest pickup after his autumn of basketball in the Chinese professional league. “Every day you have to re-evaluate. There’s very little practice time. But you can’t make excuses.”
Without Billups, Del Negro expects his team’s identity to shift. “All the things like Chauncey brings ... we’ve got to weather the storm here, move forward and get better.”
Williams, who was a starter for the Clippers last season, will continue to come off the bench. “Mo gives us more of an offensive punch with the second unit,” Del Negro said.
Billups, however, is a major loss in the locker room. He was a big reason that Martin decided to sign in Los Angeles. And when Williams was disgruntled with his dwindling playing time, it was Billups who kept him focused.
“I’ve had some conversations with Mo that only me and him talk about. It’s just about being professional and knowing that the situation is something we can all benefit from no matter what role we want to be in or not,” Billups said last weekend. “We’ve got a chance to be a good basketball team. At the end of the day that’s all that matters.”
The Clippers have won their last four road games, including at the Orlando Magic on Monday to end the NBA’s longest active losing streak to a team at nine. They’re in the middle of a six-game road stretch with the Grammys taking over Staples and have a key test Thursday against the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers.
“We’ve got guys who are battle-tested,” Paul said after the Magic victory. “This shows how much grit and fight we have. We realize if we stick together in a tough environment like this, we are capable of winning games like this.”
Neil Olshey, Clippers general manager and vice president of basketball operations, wrote via text: “We’re only a 3rd of the way through the season but we are pleased with the progress we have made to this point.”