PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – Reggie Evans had a big game Saturday night at Staples Center. The fact he had it for the Brooklyn Nets must have seemed curious to anyone who has followed the ebbs and flows of the Clippers the past two seasons.
Evans was a key contributor off the bench for the Clippers before they traded him to the Nets at the end of last season. That made it impossible to ignore the 16 rebounds he grabbed against his former team.
As the playoffs approach, it’s becoming clear the Clippers may miss the presence of players like Evans or Kenyon Martin, another former Clipper who gave them a tough enforcer inside but who was deemed expendable during the offseason.
The Clippers have some big bodies – forward Blake Griffin, center DeAndre Jordan and reserve Lamar Odom – but they don’t have a player to come off the bench who can get rebounds, deny the lane to opposing guards and out-muscle players for loose balls.
In the postseason, those are valuable commodities.
“It’s always important, but I feel very confident in our bigs,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Blake and D.J. are big, strong young guys. They have to play at a high level just like Lamar (Odom) and Ronny (Turiaf) and Ryan (Hollins) and whoever is called upon.
“It all depends on matchups and who you’re playing, but I feel confident in our bigs. In the playoffs, everything is magnified so you’ve got to step up and get the job done.”
There’s no doubt the Clippers could use an Evans or a Martin, who are both playing well for their current teams. Evans isn’t much of a scorer, but he’s averaging 15 rebounds in his past 10 games and has double figures in rebounds in 11 of 12 games this month. Martin, who was out of a job until the New York Knicks signed him to a 10-day contract in February, is averaging 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds during his team’s current four-game winning streak.
The Knicks picked up Martin, who played in 42 games last season for the Clippers, after center Tyson Chandler suffered neck and knee injuries earlier this month. But Martin, 35, has played so well that he was signed for the remainder of the season. It’s possible he could remain in the starting lineup even after Chandler returns.
Evans, 32, and Martin played key postseason roles for the Clippers in 2011-12, but the team opted to send Evans to the Nets for a second-round pick and let Martin become a free agent. Martin, who is considered a fractious presence in the locker room, was without a job this season until the Knicks brought him in.
“Obviously we miss those guys,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “Those guys were huge pieces of our team last year. But we have some guys who are capable of doing some of the things those guys did — Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf and (Odom) and all those guys. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Even so, the Clippers could use enforcers and rebounders like Evans and Martin. They rank 18th in the league in total rebounds, and their big bodies coming off the bench – Matt Barnes, Odom, Hollins and Turiaf – are not consistent rebounders.
Still, they’re more skilled in a variety of areas than Evans and Martin, and that can’t be overlooked.
“We’ve got guys that have a lot of versatility with Lamar and Hollins,” forward Caron Butler said. “You can go small, you can plug in Matt Barnes at the four or Blake at the five. We got so many different lineups we can put out there.
“Obviously we’re going to miss a guy like Reggie, but we still have so many other guys that can do so many things.”