Chauncey Billups Makes Triumphant Return
Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups made his season debut on Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves after many months rehabbing his torn Achilles’ tendon.
Billups was injured on Feb. 6 against the Orlando Magic, but he vowed to return, despite his age (now 36) and the long road ahead.
The Clippers made a leap of faith, re-signing the veteran point guard on a one-year deal for $4 million.
The timing couldn’t be better for the organization, whose hot start was derailed with four-straight losses, including a dismal outing against a depleted New Orleans Hornets squad.
Where the Clippers have fallen off most has been on the defensive side, but what they needed most to recover was leadership. That’s Billups’ role on the team. He’s the veteran voice who can reach everyone in the locker room. He has the ear of head coach Vinny Del Negro and Clippers’ management.
Billups only played a little over 19 minutes, but he scored his seven points quickly and when the team needed to close out the Timberwolves, Del Negro called his number.
After Alexey Shved hit a three-pointer with just 23.4 left on the clock to bring the Wolves within two, Billups tossed up an alley oop to DeAndre Jordan seven seconds later to ice the game, 101-95.
Winning is still new to the Clippers. It’s a franchise that has rapidly improved since Blake Griffin made his debut.
Last year’s impressive run past the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round was halted by a sweep in the second round to the San Antonio Spurs. Billups was there on the sidelines contributing, almost as an assistant coach. Ultimately, it’s up to the players on the floor to get the job done and Billups was helpless.
Now, with Billups back, the Clippers may be the deepest team in the league. Previous starter Willie Green didn’t play against the Wolves, yielding to Billups. The backcourt is loaded with Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Green and now Billups.
While the team’s strength is volume, Billups is the only NBA Finals MVP on the roster.
Even at 36 and slowed by what could have been a career-ending injury, Billups is vital to the Clippers’ success.
At 9-6, they still have a lot still to prove. The defensive slide isn’t going to fix itself overnight. The team has had its share of struggles offensively recently as well.
Still, the addition of Billups and his savvy veteran leadership could help the Clippers hold onto their Pacific Division lead.
Vinny Del Negro Safe
Naturally when a talented team struggles, the heat falls upon the head coach.
After the team’s six-game winning streak, Vinny Del Negro was doing an excellent job running the Clippers. The team had rebounded from an early setback against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Clippers had notched wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs (twice) and Miami HEAT.
Some may have been reluctant to credit the coach, but at a minimum he certainly didn’t get in the way while L.A. knocked off some of the best teams in the league.
Then the Clippers visited Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Atlanta and fell in succession. The first game back home, the team dropped one to New Orleans, despite Anthony Davis (ankle) and Eric Gordon (knee) sitting out.
Del Negro is in the final year of his deal, but the Clippers weren’t about to make a change before the win Wednesday night.
Teams hit rough patches throughout the season and the team is not expecting to make a move this season.
Beyond this year, when Chris Paul decides his long-term status as a free agent, it’s hard to predict what happens at coach for the Clippers.
For now, Del Negro is a safe bet unless the team completely falls apart. With the talent on the roster and the return of Billups, that’s just not likely to happen.
Clippers’ Defense a Work in Progress
The big question for the Clippers this season isn’t scoring, but can this roster be a force defensively?
Given the firepower, L.A. has enough talent to hit about 100 points a night.
During their hot streak, the team had climbed to top five in field goal percentage defense. They have slipped a bit, but are currently eighth, allowing teams to shoot 43.6 percent from the field.
Where the Clippers need to improve is against three-point shooting where they’re 27th overall with opponents shooting 38.4 percent.
The Clippers are a relatively weak rebounding team at 40 a game (26th overall). Shot-blocking (6.6 collectively) is a strength (8th).
Where the team excels is in generating steals, where they’re the best in the league at 10.5 a game.
The Clippers are still a work in progress defensively. It’s a mixed bag, but they have some true strengths that have helped them climb back into first place in the Pacific.
Next up for the Clippers is a visit from the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night at STAPLES Center.