Clippers ready to be the hunted

LOS ANGELES -- There are a number of positive takeaways from the Los Angeles Clippers' offseason acquisitions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler.

It brought in veteran leadership in the form of the 35-year-old Billups and 31-year-old Butler, as well as star power in Paul to couple with third-year forward Blake Griffin. But one thing it certainly didn't do is lower the team's profile.

For just about every year of the franchise's existence until this one, the Clippers could walk into an arena and know they were afterthoughts in their opponents' minds -- not necessarily on the day of the game but in the grand scheme of the league. Truthfully, nobody was keying in on the second team from L.A.

That's no longer true.

"We of course have some excitement here and we added some good pieces to a good team," Billups, the Clippers' new elder statesman, said Tuesday. "But the difficult thing is that everybody knows we should be a lot better. We don't have the advantage of sneaking up on teams anymore.

"Teams are going to be ready for us, and we've gotta guard for that."

Billups has never played a regular-season game for the Clippers. He's never experienced first-hand what he's talking about. But it's a well-understood -- if mostly unstated -- fact that the league's best teams don't put out their best efforts every single night.

But Paul, Billups and the rest of the team's veterans say they are sure that teams won't play hard against the Lakers and take it easy on the Clippers on a West Coast swing.

"Teams are gonna be gunning for us," Paul said Tuesday.

With that negative also comes this positive: The NBA's best teams tend to stick to a strict style night in and night out, doing one thing effectively over the course of an entire season and living off of that. The Clippers can do that now -- once they figure out exactly what that style is, of course.

It'll take some time, but, since Paul got to L.A. last Thursday, coach Vinny Del Negro has been preaching that the Clippers are good enough to force opponents to match their pace at all times.

That's the goal in Sunday's season opener against Portland and in every game the Clippers will play in 2011-2012.

"We're gonna make teams adjust to us," Paul said Del Negro has told him. "We're not gonna have to adjust to other teams."

The Clippers' 114-95 win over the rival Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Monday night sparked talk that the team's ascent from the lottery to championship-contending status may come even quicker than anticipated.

But Butler and 29-year-old guard Mo Williams cautioned after Tuesday's practice that the first victory was, first of all, only in a preseason game and, second of all, only one game. Griffin said it was in the back of all the players' minds all game that it was only a preseason contest.

Billups wondered afterward how the fame would have gone if the Clippers hadn't made as many shots as they did.

"When things click like they clicked last night ... you're gonna win games," Williams said in an interview on 710 ESPN with Steve Mason and John Ireland on Tuesday. "Are you gonna win every game? Probably not.

"But you gotta go into every game with the mindset that you're gonna do that, and now we have the talent to do it."

Pedro Moura is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.