Thursday, October 1, 2009

My First Peek At This Year's Clippers Did Not Disappoint

Earlier today, I caught my first glimpse of the new and improved Clippers in action. I made it to the team's facility in Playa Vista in time to catch the last few games of the morning scrimmages. Before giving you my early impressions as well as some insight I received from Mike Dunleavy during lunch, I will give you some injury updates.

Blake Griffin did not take part in any of the workouts today. He is still nursing that bruised left knee. While the rest of the team ran some games, Blake sat--rather impatiently, I might add--on the sidelines watching. Occasionally, he would get up and some shoot some free throws and mid-range jumpers before the team's training staff wrapped his knee in ice.

Dunleavy does not expect Blake to participate in any workouts this week, and said that the rookie will probably have another MRI done just to be sure the bruise is healing and he's ready for contact. Hopefully, Blake will be able to take part in drills early next week.

Sebastian Telfair also sat out the scrimmages after spraining his left ankle during the morning drills. He was seated next to Blake with his left foot propped up on a big exercise ball.

Other than those two injury notes, the Clippers collectively look very healthy and fit. The scrimmages were high-paced with high intensity. DeAndre Jordan was impressive grabbing boards and running the floor. Craig Smith scored several buckets in the paint. And Eric Gordon was driving the lane and getting the rim with regularity. Granted, it's still early in camp, but the tempo and tone look drastically different than last season, and that's without Blake Griffin even taking the court yet.

After practice, Dunleavy joined me, Don MacLean, Ralph Lawler, Mike Smith, Dain Blanton and our producer Sara Takata for lunch at Piknic in Playa Vista. It's an annual gathering we have at the beginning of camp to get the coach's ideas and plans for the upcoming season. It really helps with our tv production throughout the year.

While most of our conversation is not for mass consumption, I will share with you some overall impressions Mike has about his team and this season. As the team's general manager, he's obviously the one responsible for acquiring the new pieces, and once all the moves were made he really liked his team. Now having seen them in action for several workouts, he likes this mix of guys even more. He probably has more versatility and depth since he's been here, both of which every coach covets.

As far as a starting lineup is concerned, Dunleavy reaffirmed what he said at Media Day about the starting spots being wide open. He said the starters from last year will start atop the depth chart, but any and all spots can be won during the preseason.

He believes there are about 5-6 teams from the Western Conference who are locks for the playoffs. You don't have to be an NBA insider to figure who those squads might be. But beyond those teams, Dunleavy thinks it will be a battle for the last 2-3 playoff spots. And barring any devastating injuries, he expects the Clippers to be right in the mix.

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