Del Negro Helps Lead Clippers to Victory
With the Los Angeles Clippers’ 99-93 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, Vinny Del Negro became the fastest coach to in franchise history to 100 wins.
“Because he’s got Blake Griffin,” joked point guard Chris Paul. “He’s had Blake Griffin the whole time.”
Del Negro (184 games) surpasses Jack Ramsey, who needed 223 games with the Buffalo Braves to accomplish the feat. Mike Dunleavy moves to third, getting his 100th victory 224 games into his Clippers’ coaching career.
With his team struggling against the Mavericks, it took a fourth-quarter push (in front of the team’s 71st-straight sellout) for the Clippers to climb to 28-8.
“They’ve raised the bar around here in terms of how they’ve played. They’re a legit championship caliber team,” said Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle.
Was Del Negro aware of the milestone coaching milestone?
“No,” he said.
Is it significant?
“No,” Del Negro said.
Finally he added, “It’s all about winning. It’s great. We got the job done. We won tonight, but we have to play a lot better.”
Del Negro has tried to put aside all the winning the Clippers are doing this season, focusing instead on getting his team to “play the right way,” improving as they go. For most of the year, that’s exactly what the team has done.
“It matters, maybe not now, but in the long run,” said Jamal Crawford. “You want to get rid of bad habits and continue to play good basketball.”
The Clippers had a few early upsets at home, falling to sub-.500 teams. Paul sees those losses as a blessing.
“Oh yeah, no question. Every game now we come out with a purpose,” said Paul. “We have a plan and we expect a lot from each other. The coaches don’t always have to tell us something. If I’m not being aggressive, Blake not being aggressive, we sort of police ourselves because we expect a lot out of each other.”
The Clippers’ mood after the win was like Del Negro’s, somewhat solemn, as if they had lost. Griffin was bothered by his six turnovers, less impressed by his double-double and three steals.
“My [performance] personally tonight was pretty poor. I need to do a much better job of taking care of the ball,” said Griffin. “It’s always great to come out with a win but you don’t want to have lapses like this.”
With the team’s moniker “Lob City” and a deep, talented roster, Del Negro isn’t always recognized for his contribution.
“When the team is showing a lot of excitement, there is a lot of attraction to how we play and the way we play. I think that can get overlooked sometimes,” said Griffin. “As a team, we all know that this is a collective effort. It’s not just one guy and it’s not just the players, overall it’s a group.”
Paul credits Del Negro and his staff for preparing the players and making timely substitutions.
“I think Vinny along with our coaching staff have done a great job of making adjustments, knowing when guys need a little bit of rest; making sure the rotation is right and bringing in the right guys,” said Paul. “Our coaching staff has done an outstanding job of preparing us for every game and letting us know what’s going to be coming and over the course of the game making sure the right people are in and the right people are getting the ball.”
The Clippers have grown in popularity in Los Angeles while the Lakers struggle through a down season at 15-20.
“Right now we’re just focused on being one of the best teams in the league, not just the city,” said Lamar Odom. “Focus can’t be just to be better than one team. Now, we’re trying to be great.”
It’s no coincidence that the Clippers’ winning percentage climbed significantly as Odom rounded into shape after a knee injury. Odom wasn’t in great shape for camp but he’s become a crucial part of Del Negro’s rotation.
“Mountain climbers love it when they get that rush of adrenalin when they’re climbing a mountain, time stops,” said Odom. “For me, that’s what winning does. So whatever I have to do to win, that’s what I’m going to do because that’s my high.”
The Clippers have come a long, long way since Odom’s first stint with the club.
“Of course the vibe is different, how many televised games to we got this year?” asked Odom. “We came into this season knowing that we were going to have a real run and we’re going to win games.”
“It was going to be fun. It was going to be totally different from any other year. Every time we step on the court and win a game, we’re making history,” Odom continued. “We’re starting a tradition and that feels pretty good to be at the start of something. A feeling, as a matter of fact, like no other.”
Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups Update
Forward Grant Hill was seemingly cleared to make his season debut on Wednesday, but was held out.
“I just want to give him a couple more days of conditioning and contact,” said Del Negro. “Get his timing down.”
Hill has been bothered by a lingering bone bruise in his knee.
Chauncey Billups is also out, working back from a foot injury.
“I’m feeling better,” said Billups. “Hopefully I start practicing soon.”
After recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, Billups played in three games before sitting back down with a sore foot.
The main focus for Billups is to be healthy for the playoffs, although he should return well before then.
“Not to say that [the regular season is] not important, because it is, but it I just hope to be ready by the most important time of the season,” said Billups.
Additionally Jamal Crawford returned Wednesday from a foot injury that knocked him out a couple of games.
“It’s been a week since I’ve really been on the court. I think the foot is OK,” Crawford said. “It didn’t get any worse tonight.”