Chris Paul reflects on preseason debut

LOS ANGELES -- New Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul had done it plenty of times before, had stepped out onto the Staples Center floor in L.A. with the dimmed lights and the sold-out crowd and went head-to-head against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

But, this time, it felt a little different, he conceded afterward. It felt weird, unlike anything he'd ever experienced before.

"For a second there, it just didn't feel the same," Paul said Monday after making his Clippers preseason debut in a 114-95 win over the Lakers at the Staples Center. "It just feels like a new beginning.

"It feels like I'm a rookie again."

There were a few things he mentioned as being pointedly different than his previous experiences in the league -- two years in Oklahoma City and four in New Orleans, all with the Hornets organization.

But the driving-to-the-arena thing was clearly a big surprise for him. In New Orleans, Paul said, he lived a two-minute trip away from the New Orleans Arena. Now, he's staying in a hotel close to the Clippers' practice facility near Marina Del Rey, which meant he had to portion out a good 45 minutes to make sure he was at Staples on-time Monday.

That was the first part of his game-day experience after being acquired from the Hornets in a blockbuster deal last week. The second part -- the basketball part -- went fine.

"At the end of the day, when you step out on the court, it's still basketball," Paul said Monday. "That's still my happy place, still my sanctuary. As long as they keep the basket at 10 feet and the court the same length, that'll stay the same."

His final line against the Lakers: 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, in 24 minutes of action, all of which came in the first three quarters.

The assists and rebounds were both team-highs for the Clippers, who shot well as a squad and turned the ball over less than half as much as the Lakers.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro cautioned as much as he could pregame that Monday's game was a dry run and nothing more, calling it Paul's third practice with the team and new acquisition Chauncey Billups' fourth.

But, after the game, moods changed a bit. Billups called it an "impressive win." Del Negro said his team was going to get everyone's role "figured out very quickly." And Paul was pleased with what he saw as well.

"I think we did a decent job tonight learning on the fly," the seven-year veteran said. "We've all just gotta keep feeling each other out and learn where guys like the ball and different things like that."

Sixty-six regular-season games await the Clippers soon, beginning in only six days from Monday's game, on Christmas Day. And Monday's game was just preseason, they all said -- nothing more. But, even so, there were positives to take away.

"The potential is enormous," Billups said. "The key is to get to the point where you can fulfill that potential and sustain it like 80 percent of the time every night. But there were moments out there.

"You could feel the potential. You saw it tonight."

Talk swirled around the arena pregame that Monday's contest was the most-hyped preseason game in history. Speaking at his new corner locker in the Clippers' locker room after the game, Paul tried his best to squash that.

"We're not getting caught up in the hype," he said. "We still have to go out there and practice every day, continue to get better day by day. We can't control what happens in the media and what people say and stuff like that. But we can control what happens in this locker room."

Pedro Moura is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.