Clippers point guard Chris Paul pressures Jazz point guard Jamaal Tinsley… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
It really wasn't a surprise to see the Clippers play such an uneven exhibition game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers spent last week in China playing two games against the Miami Heat, returning home Sunday afternoon after a 10-hour flight.
So, not only was the plan to limit minutes for his key players in their fourth exhibition game, but Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro also held out Lamar Odom
and Grant Hill because
of nagging injuries and for rest.
The Clippers missed seven of their first eight shots, got down by 15 points and then took an 11-point fourth-quarter lead before winning an exciting game, 96-94, over the Jazz only after Randy Foye missed a potential game-winning three-pointer as time expired.
Jamal Crawford (18 points), one of the Clippers' top reserves acquired over the summer, scored the team's final six points. His three-point play broke a tie and gave the Clippers a 95-92 lead that barely stood.
Blake Griffin had 23 points in 29 minutes, DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 16 rebounds in 28 minutes, and Chris Paul had nine assists and six points in 24 minutes.
"It's another opportunity for us to get better," Del Negro said. "It's another opportunity for us to build our chemistry."
For Odom, weight and poor conditioning are issues.
Del Negro said Odom's knees are bothering him and that playing the 6-10 forward against the Jazz probably would have set him back.
"He's got to work through some conditioning things and some health things right now, which he's doing," Del Negro said. "Yeah, I wish he was in a little bit better conditioning, and he wishes he was. But he's just got to continue to work every day and I'm sure he'll get there eventually."
On the positive side, guard Chauncey Billups' return from surgery to repair a left Achilles' tendon tear is moving ahead of schedule.
Billups has looked so good in practice and in Tuesday's scrimmage that the Clippers think he may return sometime in late November.
"He's been practicing," Del Negro said. "And now it's just a matter of when he feels ready. He'll know it."
The Clippers saw two old friends playing for the Jazz, former teammates Randy Foye and Mo Williams.
Foye (17 points) signed with the Jazz as a free agent, and Williams, who didn't play (groin injury), was traded to the Jazz for Odom.
"They did right by me," Williams said about the Clippers. "They put me in a situation they thought was good for me."
In an attempt to speed up games, the NBA has instituted a new rule to cut down an players' pregame rituals. After players are introduced, the game clock will tick down 90 seconds, after which teams are expected to be ready for tipoff.
If a team's players aren't ready, the team will get a delay-of-game warning.
"Guys have routines," Del Negro said.
"Now they have to break some of them if they are a little long. But we haven't had an issue with it the first few games."