Clippers-Warriors Preview

After making the league’s biggest offseason splash in acquiring
superstar point guard Chris Paul, things may finally be looking up
for the Los Angeles Clippers.

With a palpable level of excitement surrounding the team for the
first time in a long while, the visiting Clippers open the
lockout-shortened season against the Golden State Warriors on
Christmas night.

Los Angeles, which has just one winning season and two playoff
appearances over the last 18 years, enters 2011-12 with plenty to
be excited about thanks to Paul’s arrival. After a deal that would
have sent Paul to the crosstown Lakers was rejected by the league,
the Clippers acquired the four-time All-Star from New Orleans for
guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and
a 2012 first-round draft pick.

Though Paul certainly didn’t come cheap, the opportunity to pair
him with reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin was too good to
pass up.

“We’re not getting caught up in the hype. We can’t control what
happens in the media and what people say, but we can control what
happens in this locker room,” Paul said. “We still have to go out
there and continue to get better and compete. We’re just making
sure guys stay focused and understand that it’s a long season.

“One thing that can’t be measured in the box score is how hard
you play. And as long as we do that every night, we have enough
talent that we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to
win.”

Griffin averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds to rank 12th and
fourth in the league, respectively. While he stands to become all
the more dominant with Paul running the show, he’s trying to keep
an even keel.

“Our goal is the playoffs, obviously, but I’m not going to sit
here and promise that we’re going to win this amount of games, or
that we’re going to go this far in the playoffs, win 60 games and
guarantee championships,” Griffin said. “There’s going to be none
of that.”

Besides welcoming Paul, the Clippers signed two-time All-Star
Caron Butler and agreed to terms with five-time All-Star Chauncey
Billups.

With its impressive offseason, Los Angeles seems all but certain
to improve upon the 32-50 record it posted last season.

“We all know what we can do with this team. And with the new
guys, I just think it’s going to take us to another level,” said
big man DeAndre Jordan, who remained with the club after the
Clippers matched the offer sheet he got from Golden State.

“We’re going to try to make a run at the postseason. With the
moves that we’ve made, you can tell that we’re committed to winning
this year and for years to come. I’m happy about the direction
we’re going in.”

While the Warriors didn’t make nearly as much offseason noise,
they’re counting on new coach Mark Jackson to help turn things
around.

Golden State, which finished 36-46 in 2010-11, has missed the
playoffs in all but one of the previous 17 seasons.

“We’re not going to be an excuse team,” he said. “We’re going to
find a way to go get it done. We will be a playoff basketball
team.

“… I’m here with a group of guys that I believe in. I’m here
with a new ownership team. I’m here with a new management team, and
it’s an exciting time. I really am not just hoping, I’m believing,
I’m anticipating big things.”

The Warriors feature one of the more potent backcourts in the
league with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Ellis ranked eighth in
the NBA last season with an average of 24.1 points and Curry posted
18.6 per game.

Neither Ellis nor Curry, however, are opening this campaign as
they would have hoped. While Ellis was accused of sexual harassment
Wednesday in a lawsuit by a former team employee, Curry is listed
as day-to-day with a sprained right ankle and his status for Sunday
is uncertain.

Small forward Dorell Wright, who broke out last season with a
career-best 16.4 scoring average, gives the team a formidable third
scoring option while big men David Lee and Andris Biedrins look to
control the glass.

These teams split four meetings last season, but Golden State
has taken 10 of 11 at home against the Clippers, including three
straight by 19.3 points per contest.