If the Clippers had an award for unsung hero, it would go to Willie Green.
He plays when needed. He sits without complaint. This season, he has started 50 games, but he has also been a DNP (did not play) nine times.
“Willie’s a pro,” coach Vinny Del Negro said after the Clippers’ 29-point victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night. “He’s always prepared. He’s one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last guys to leave. He’s going to stay ready.”
Staying ready is an essential part of Green’s job. He started the team’s first 14 games while guard Chauncey Billups rehabilitated a torn left Achilles tendon. He sat the next three after Billups returned, but returned to the starting lineup after Billups went down again, this time with tendinitis in his left foot.
In fact, when Billups has gone down, Green has stood up. He started against the Sixers – his first start since Feb. 11 – to give Billups time to rest a groin injury. Billups indicated he could return Saturday night when the Clippers play the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center, but it probably will be a game-time decision.
In the meantime, Green, a nine-year NBA veteran playing for his fourth team in four seasons, keeps himself prepared to play – and to sit.
“You just have to continue to believe in yourself and continue to get your shots up and get all of your work in,” he said. “At the end of the day, for me it’s really just about getting these wins. I’m a very spiritual guy, so I believe that all things will come together.”
Green played 22 minutes against the Sixers and scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He added four rebounds.
“It’s tough when you’ve been out of the lineup for a while,” he said. “I came here because of the bigger picture. I still believe in this team.”
Del Negro clearly believes in him. Although Green’s playing time has been sporadic, the Clippers coach knows he can be a reliable contributor to a team looking to improve its playoff standing in the final weeks of the regular season.
“He understands the big picture, and he’s just one of those guys you don’t have to worry about,” Del Negro said. “He’s just going to be ready when his number is called. He’s going to give you what he can, and that makes it easier on everybody.”
The Clippers’ game against the Nets will be their last home game until April 1. They play four road games in five nights starting next Tuesday, with stops in Dallas, New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston.
Del Negro rejected the suggestion that his team is in desperation mode to win games, although the Clippers are in a sprint to the finish with the Memphis Grizzlies, who hold the third spot in the Western Conference by percentage points. The Clippers have one more loss than Memphis and are currently tied with the Denver Nuggets for fourth place.
“We’ve just got to win games,” Del Negro said. “We don’t look at it like that. We have to play well. I thought we did some good things (Wednesday night) and got the result we were looking for.”
They’ll need more of those. Road games against the Spurs and Rockets won’t be easy, and a possible first-round matchup with the Nuggets, who have the best home record in the league (30-3), is a frightening proposition at best.
But they already know that.
“There will be no easy routes during the playoffs,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “It really doesn’t matter if it’s Denver, Golden State, Houston, Memphis or whoever it is, it’s not going to be easy. For us, it’s really not about the standings but about the way we’re playing down the stretch. That’s more important.”