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NBA PREVIEW / CLIPPERS PREVIEW

Stranger things happen

Lots of newcomers combine with host of injuries, leading Clippers to start season with many unknowns.

October 28, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Dillman is a Times staff writer.

Baron Davis was in the Bosh Pit, of sorts, listening to the Raptors' Chris Bosh throw it down.

Not on the basketball court, though. It's all about the Internet world now, 24/7, and Bosh vs. Davis centers on who can be funnier in a skit. No "help" allowed in the fun-off with Davis appearing on ibeatyou.com ("It allows me to be a little silly," Davis says) and Bosh over at AOL Sports.

"This is the ultimate challenge," said Davis, looking appropriately mock-intense in their setup video.

Well . . . another one immediately comes to mind.

Oh that one.

The Clippers.

Yes, a point guard can come home again and Davis did just that in the summer, sending a jolt through the NBA, one part energy boost here with the Clippers, winners of 23 games last season, and another part shocker still causing reverberations with his old team, the Golden State Warriors.

Davis opted out of the final year of his contract to sign a five-year, $65-million deal with the Clippers in July, and it was supposed to be the ultimate NBA buddy story, teaming with power forward Elton Brand and riding off into the Hollywood sunset together.

Or at least to a No. 3 seeding in the West.

But Elton flickered out like a candle in the wind, fleeing to Philadelphia and creating all sorts of abandonment issues for those left behind. Surely Davis felt a sense of betrayal, and Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy still has that last communique from Brand fixed in his mind, a text message sent at "July 1 at 7:57 p.m." before radio silence ensued.

"Who shot Kennedy and who turned Elton Brand?" Dunleavy said, rhetorically, before training camp.

That may never truly be answered.

And now there are questions, different ones, about another power forward, Marcus Camby, brought in from Denver after the Brand episode played out. You might say there has been one striking similarity between Brand and Camby: injuries.

Barring a major breakthrough, Camby won't be ready for the season opener Wednesday against the Lakers. He has been sidelined with a bruised right heel and hasn't played a minute in the exhibition season. Davis, who has a sprained left ring finger, hasn't logged much time either -- 18 minutes in the first exhibition game at Fresno, in all -- but moved the needle toward being ready in time for Wednesday.

Davis called that exhibition opener in Fresno a sneak preview, albeit a short one. The movie producer, Davis, was asked to give his pitch for the Clippers' training camp.

"It's 'Lost,' " he said. "You've got 11 strangers on an island trying to figure it out."

Of course, not every reality show has a quirky 7-foot center.

"You don't get a Chris Kaman," Davis said. "You get a Chris Kaman once in your life. It's a pretty eclectic group of guys."

The Clippers' projected starters are eclectic off the court, and hopefully, electric on it, once they are all able to break away from injury rehab.

"With this team, we have yet to find an identity because we haven't played all together, let alone practiced that much together," Davis said. "We're going to have to figure it out on the way. We opened on a great note, and then guys started falling off, one by one."

Identity crisis? Or opportunity to create a new one on a blank slate?

"There's a lot of guys anxious to win," Camby said at practice last week. "The Clippers, as a whole, haven't had a lot of success out there on the basketball court. We all heard the stories before of what's going on, the poor seasons that they had and stuff like that.

"No one in this room, this group of guys, has won a championship, so I think that's driving a lot of these guys."

Of the nine new players, two are on a second tour of duty with the Clippers (Jason Hart and Brian Skinner) and there are three rookies (first-round draft pick Eric Gordon, Mike Taylor and DeAndre Jordan). Kaman is the longest-tenured Clipper, followed by shooting guard Cuttino Mobley.

Only on this team can a guy coming off his rookie season, small forward Al Thornton, seem like a quasi-veteran with all the newcomers in the room. Dunleavy thought it would take anywhere from 10 to 15 games for the parts to reasonably jell, and that was before the injuries to Davis, Camby and veteran Tim Thomas.

As a byproduct, the exhibition season was wildly unpredictable, with four wins in the first five games and then three straight losses.

"Lately we've been playing a lot of 'me' basketball," Thomas said. "Guys have to understand we have the talent out there, we just have to keep our spacing and let the ball come to you. Mike's never going to yell at anybody who is open and able to knock down shots. We just have to do a better job of creating better shots for each other.

"You always want to put yourself in the position to get to the playoffs and kind of figure it out. Or to understand what type of team you have."

That's nearly impossible for now. You can't exactly Photoshop Camby into practice footage. Dunleavy can only daydream about what his defense might be able to do.

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