LOS ANGELES How lucky is Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers' head coach, fired by the Bulls after the 2009-10 season, was hired by the other L.A. team, which happened to have a No. 1 overall draft pick in Blake Griffin the second top selection hes coached and then, prior to the beginning of last season, the organization acquired All-Star point guard Chris Paul, changing the fortunes of the long-troubled franchise.
But as talented as last seasons team was they advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in an upset of sorts, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs this years squad could be even better. While the drama surrounding the star-studded Lakers and their coaching situation has captivated fans, the Clippers might be the best team in the City of Angels, as well as the possibly the leagues deepest team.
Theyre explosive. When your leading scorer is coming off the bench, it says a lot," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "Jamal Crawfords playing great for them, but obviously their depths a huge asset. Six guys average in double figures, well-balanced. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put a lot of pressure on you inside, and theyre skilled. Caron Butler, tremendous. Matt Barnes, energy. Ryan Hollins, energy off the bench. So, weve got to be ready for the challenge."
"Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Crawford, those guys are going to put a lot of pressure on your defense because of their ability to break you down off the dribble and then, their ability to finish inside, but its well-balanced. Theyre moving the ball, theyre playing with great pace, so you have to get back, get your defense set, try to keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots and then youve got to finish your defense. Youve got to rebound. Theyre tough on the offensive boards, as well."
"Chris Pauls been a great player in this league for a long time and theyve got guys that are still out. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Theyre deep now theyre going to be deeper down the road, but Chris Paul, Bledsoe, even a guy like Willie Green. Willie Green has played great for them," continued the coach, whose team faces the Clippers at the Staples Center in a Saturday-night matchup. "Theres nothing that they dont have and defensively, the length up front, shot-blocking. You cant allow them to turn you over. They turn you over, theyre going to score easily in transition. Live-ball turnovers are a problem."
Were going to use everybody. Thats why you have a team. Well see how the game unfolds. But I feel good about our team. We just have to be ready to play. Youre on the road, so you have to be ready from the start. You have to set a tone. We know how good they are, we know how explosive they are. Their easy baskets theyre shooting as a team almost 50 percent, very unusual and theyre putting up over 100 points a game, so you cant let your guard down at all against them. Otherwise, they could get a 10-0 spurt against you in a minute, so youve got to make sure youre tied together in every aspect of your defense.
Indeed, with an elite playmaker like Paul, an athletic marvel like Griffin, an instant-offense scorer like Crawford, a former Bull, and an imposing, much-improved true center like Jordan, not to mention their incredible depth, the Clippers, who won an early-season showdown with the defending-champion Heat, do pose some matchup problems for the Bulls. While the teams by-committee approach has been successful, without the game-changing talents of the injured Derrick Rose, it will be an uphill battle.
Speaking of Rose, the superstar point guard is currently in Los Angeles, where he typically spends his offseasons as he continues his ongoing rehabilitation process. Thibodeau said the team has been contact with him since arriving in town Thursday and noted that Rose may attend Saturdays game.
The main focus for him is his rehab. We felt it was best for him to be here, in one place, doing his rehab. As I mentioned the other day, he started cutting and stuff, so hes doing fine, everythings going according to plan. He just has to keep doing what hes doing, he explained. I dont want him to be concerned with where we are with the team or anything like that. Hes doing fine and I want our guys here to be focused on improvement, and our next opponent.