PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Before the playoffs began last season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said that many of his players had no idea what was in store.
“They think they know,” Del Negro said then. “But they won’t until they actually go through it.”
The Clippers got a crash course in playoff experience when they made NBA history by coming back from a 24-point deficit with less than eight minutes left in Game 1 at Memphis, then closed out their first-round series against the Grizzlies on the road with the franchise’s first-ever Game 7 win.
The Clippers eventually got swept in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs, but they believe that playoff run will pay big dividends this season.
“Last year I had no idea really what to expect,” Blake Griffin said. “Everybody talks about it but you really don’t know until you’ve played in it, and with Memphis it’s even on another level just because of the style of basketball they play. Having that experience and knowing what that’s about will serve us well.”
When the season was over, Del Negro made a list of players he wanted to go after, with the playoffs in mind. Chris Paul had some players in mind as well.
That’s a big reason why the Clippers targeted and eventually acquired Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green and Ryan Hollins. Each has been to the playoffs on multiple occasions, with Odom and Turiaf winning championships.
“It’s very important to have that experience,” said Odom, who has back-to-back titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and played in three straight NBA Finals. “I think the most important part of the playoffs is the mindset and being able to stay poised in the moment.”
Although Chauncey Billups was on the team last season, he was sidelined after tearing his left Achilles tendon last February. He was largely brought to the team for his playoff experience after winning an NBA Finals MVP, playing in back-to-back NBA Finals and leading his teams to seven straight conference finals.
“In my eyes, this is all just the preseason," Billups said. "The real season is coming up and I'm hoping to be ready."
Billups, 36, has played just 20 games this season, averaging 8.2 points and 2.2 assists while battling through a variety of injuries. He practiced with the team Thursday and is hoping to be back on the court for the Clippers’ critical game Saturday against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
“Having guys like Chauncey and myself who have been in big playoff games and Game 7s and so on is very important,” Odom said.
Odom said he will take a more vocal role once the playoffs start, as his former teammate Derek Fisher did with the Lakers. Odom has often leaned on Fisher for advice and has tried to take a similar leadership role on the Clippers.
“This is where you give it your all,” Odom said. “Winning playoff games isn’t just physical and mental, they’re also spiritual as well.”