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Clippers venturing into the great unknown in NBA playoffs

Three Clippers starters, including All-Star forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, have never been to the playoffs. Only eight of the team's 15 players have played in the postseason.

April 28, 2012|By Broderick Turner
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, is congratulated by teammate DeAndre Jordan during the Clippers' victory over Oklahoma City on April 16. Blake and Jordan will be making their playoff debuts Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, is congratulated by teammate DeAndre… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

For this edition of Clippers, this 2011-12 collection of players, this will be their maiden voyage into the NBA playoff galaxy as an assembled group.

In essence, these Clippers are newbies to this playoff experience, going into a territory that is foreign to them.

And they will encounter an experienced postseason Western Conference first-round opponent in the Memphis Grizzlies that is making back-to-back playoff appearances, a team that overtook the Clippers for home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series that starts with Games 1 (Sunday) and 2 (Wednesday) at FedExForum.

The Clippers added nine new faces to the team during the lockout-truncated, 66-game NBA season, making it a team learning to play together on the fly.

"I could care less about how many games we have played in the playoffs and different things like that," point guard Chris Paul said. "When we step out on the court, we're not going to be like, 'Man, you guys, what's it like to play in the playoffs?' Know what I mean? You've got to play the game, so it is what it is."

The Clippers will go into the series with three starters who have never played in the playoffs, and seven of their 15 players have never tasted postseason play.

Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro has been to the playoffs twice, both as the coach of the Chicago Bulls, both times losing in the first round.

Starting guard Randy Foye, second-year All-Star power forward Blake Griffin and third-year center DeAndre Jordan are heading to the playoffs for the first time.

"I can tell them what it's going to be like and what to expect, but until you get in it, you don't know," said forward Kenyon Martin, who has been to the playoffs in nine of the 11 years he has been in the NBA, including back-to-back NBA Finals appearances when he played for the New Jersey Nets.

"It's best to be prepared for anything. Nine times out of 10, your 'A' move is not going to work because they are going to scout it. Your 'B' move is not going to work. Your 'A' play is not going to work and your 'B' play is not going to work so you've got to run plays thoroughly and you've got to be precise."

Paul, who said he will play in Game 1 despite a mild left groin strain that kept him out of Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks, is one of eight Clippers who have participated in the playoffs. He has been there three times with New Orleans, playing in 23 games.

Chauncey Billups has the most playoff experience, having been to the postseason 11 times during his 14-year career, playing in 140 games. He won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, being named the most valuable player of the Finals. But Billups won't play because he still is recovering from a season-ending left Achilles' tendon injury.

"Playoff experience is big," Griffin said. "You see a lot of the teams that make deep runs have a lot of playoff experience. They have a lot of veterans. We need to make up for our lack of experience in the playoffs with hard work and really being aggressive."

The Clippers have just two pages in their media guide devoted to their playoff success, and one of those is from the days when the franchise was the Buffalo Braves.

This will be just the fifth time the Clippers have reached the playoffs since they moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984, the last time being in 2006.

"Obviously this is Blake's first playoff game and DeAndre, two of our key guys," said guard Mo Williams, who has been to the playoffs four times during his eight-year career. "But they could go out there and play like it's nothing to them, like they've been there before…When you're a gamer, you're a gamer. Obviously it's a different basketball game, but at the same time it's still basketball. It's just going to be a little bit louder and a little bit more attention to detail."

The Clippers had won 13 of 15 games but finished the season losing three of four, needing a win in their final two games to secure the home-court edge, but failing to do that.

That wasn't the momentum the Clippers had hoped for before the playoffs started.

"The thing that I've learned about the playoffs is that it doesn't matter if you win by one or 20," Paul said. "It's all about getting four wins. It's going to be tough. It's going to be fun. We're starting out on the road. As they say, the series doesn't start until somebody loses at home. So we are going to go in and try to get Game 1."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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