Clippers still a work in progress heading into playoffs

With 11 games left in the regular season, the Clippers still have a ways to go before they reach their potential.

Andrew D. Bernstein

As they move slowly toward the final stretch of regular-season games, the Clippers realize they’re not quite a finished product. That’s a difficult thing to acknowledge with just 11 games remaining, but it’s true.

They might have the third-best record in the NBA’s Western Conference, but they’re also still dealing with a seemingly endless list of injuries. And they have two relatively new players who are important parts of their second unit but who are still getting used to their teammates.

It doesn’t mean the Clippers are worried, but it does mean they will have to ramp up as they embark on a five-game trip that begins Wednesday night in New Orleans.

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"I think that group is trying to find themselves," coach Doc Rivers said. "It’s a new group when you bring Jamal (Crawford) back and these new guys. They’re working on it. They want to (succeed). It’s not like they don’t want to."

It will take time. Crawford has played in the past two games after missing eight of the previous nine with a strained left calf muscle. Forwards Danny Granger and Glen "Big Baby" Davis have played a combined 22 games after signing in late February. Forward Hedo Turkoglu didn’t sign until Jan. 16.

They’re all still feeling each other out, looking for a cohesion that will be important when the playoffs next month. It’s taking time.

"It’s definitely a work in progress," Granger said. "We’ve been switching people in and out, adding me and Big Baby, and Jamal’s back now, so it’s a bunch of guys that haven’t played with each other. But we’re all veterans. We’re going to get it eventually."

The group’s growing pains were evident in Monday night’s 106-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center. A 12-point lead late in the first quarter dissolved to two points just three minutes into the second period.

That made it two games in a row that the second unit struggled holding a lead.

"That’s concerning because our second unit has to be better," Rivers said. "I think it was a 9-2 run when they walked on the floor…We got out to a 12-point lead, then our bench gave it up. But when we were really rolling, our bench was a reason we won some of the games. So it’s a give and take."

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The backup group remains in flux. Crawford could rejoin the starting unit, Rivers said, because of his impact as a scorer. That would put Darren Collison, essentially a point guard, back on the bench. Or if J.J. Redick, out with a bulging disk in his lower back, gets healthy, he could start next to Chris Paul.

If that last scenario happens, it would give the Clippers a dynamic bench of Crawford, Collison, Granger, Davis and Hedo Turkoglu. Minutes would be few for Jared Dudley, who began the season as a starting small forward but has played little this month after losing his job to Matt Barnes.

"Our second unit is not a real second unit," Paul said. "If you guys had a chance to get in and see our practices and how competitive it is, it’s fun to watch. We’re going to need everyone on our team in order to get to where we want to be."

Granger said it’s a matter of developing chemistry.

"That’s exactly what it is," he said. "Players play together for a whole year and you really develop good chemistry. We’re trying to do it in 15 or 20 games and get ready for the playoffs. It’s a challenge."

But if, or when, it happens, the Clippers believe they could have something special this postseason.

"It can be a huge strength," Granger said. "We can have one of the deepest benches coming into a game in the playoffs. Once we start hitting on all cylinders, we can be a really good team."