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Home Sour Home?

They say that you can?t go home again.? But after six tumultuous though ascending seasons on the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets and four magical years on the Golden State Warriors, elite point guard Baron Davis finally got his wish and returned to his native Los Angeles where he was born and had starred at UCLA in the late 1990s.

But all is not well as Davis? trade wishes resulted in his not landing on the lauded LA Lakers, but ending up on their co-residents, the long-suffering LA Clippers.? Much can be said about the Clippers? player-personnel moves over the years, but none were as resounding as the off-season losses of their two best offensive players ? Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.? It?s not often you lose your two best weapons and replace them with equal value.? Alas, the Clippers were able to lure Davis from the upstate division rival Warriors, seemingly at least somewhat compensating for Maggette, if not Brand.

Thus far, the Clippers have predictably started the season with a thud, winning only one (a surprising home victory against Dallas) of their first nine, although in fairness, it is still too early to judge the effectiveness of a Davis-led offense, which also added center-forward Marcus Camby to the fold.? However, to date, Davis is averaging 16.3 points-per-game, which is not far off his career average, but certainly notably down from his recent seasons as a Warrior.

In fact, the Clippers? most recent test was against those same Warriors, who, with Maggette in tow, visited Staples Center for a November 15 matin?e.? Even though the Clippers fought to stay close through most of the game, in the end, the Warriors, behind the shooting power of undrafted rookie Anthony Morrow?s 37 points, won easily 121-103.? Of note, Davis was the Clippers? scoring leader with 25 points.

Davis, soft-spoken, intelligent, and articulate, is not miffed by his new team?s beginning struggles.? ?Everyone is this locker room wants to win,? he said. ?We just have to figure out how to win together.? A lot of times, when you are in a situation like this, everyone wants to take it upon themselves to be the guy that is responsible for that next victory.? We all have to use each other?s talents and just play with each other and work well together.? We?re coming along; it?s just that we?re doing it in spurts.? We have to have a sustained effort.?

With Davis as the point guard, he realizes that the burden is on him to lead the team.? ?I think tempo is everything for us,? Davis said.? ?Once we are able to find that style, meaning pace, we?re going to be a better team.? We?re still looking for it: that rhythm out there ? that flow.? We?re showing some flashes of being a highly competitive team. Everybody has to figure out their roles within the system.?

Any Clippers' observer notes that the team often plays from behind, a reality not lost on Davis. ?We have to get off to better starts, stop digging ourselves into holes, and basically play with confidence.? I think a lot of times, we?re out there playing with uncertainty.? You can?t be effective that way.? We just have to continue to do a better effort as a team to try and play as a whole.? I think chemistry is important, and right now, that?s something that we really have to concentrate and work hard on.?

So does Davis have the patience to let the Clippers grow with him?? ?I am pretty patient. I?ve learned from my years in the league to be very patient," he said. ?And, I understand that this season is a long season.? You?ve got to be able to develop a chemistry, and that?s what basketball is all about.

?Growing up the way I grew up,? he continued, ?you have to be patient and let things come to you.? You?ve just got to know that there are always better days to come, especially when you?ve put in the hard work that we?re putting in.? Everybody is trying their hardest to accelerate that curve.? We?re going to get there ? it?s just a matter of time.?

With his first Warrior matchup behind him, and not displaying any regrets, Davis had nothing but encouraging words for his old team,? ?I think, they are starting to settle in and figure out who they are as a team as well ? the young guys are stepping up,? he said.

So does Davis regret the movie to LA?? With less than 10% of the season in the bank, the jury is still out.? However, Davis exuded optimism when summarizing his reasons for returning.? ?I think [I had an] opportunity to be a role model in the community and try and bring a winning attitude to the Clipper organization,? he said.? And with that, he went out into the streets of his Los Angeles for a familiar Saturday afternoon.

If God Himself Created A Basketball Player...

He doesn?t strike an intimidating pose.  In fact, he doesn?t even look much like a basketball player.  At 6?3? and 202 lbs, if you think sports, you might conjure the image of a defensive back in football, or a baseball outfielder.  However, Chauncey Billups has steadily and quietly become one of the best players in the NBA.

He came into the league in 1997 as a 21-year-old, the third pick in the draft out of Colorado.  But he didn?t get steady playing time and bounced around six teams in his first four years, including sequential stints in Boston, Toronto, Denver, Orlando and Minnesota.  Finally settling down with the Detroit Pistons in 2002, Billups found a home.  But he never doubted himself.  ?I never lost my confidence,? he said of those first four seasons. ?I always felt I would be a good player in this league.?

Besides being a key to the Pistons? championship in 2004, Billups has provided the multi-dimensional team with on-the-court leadership.  In Sunday?s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles ? a battle of two of the teams with among the top records in the league ? Billups scored a game-high 25 points, 12 on three-point goals, and added eight assists. ?It?s a different experience for me now,? he said.  ?It?s my show.  I have the approval of my teammates.?

His new coach in Detroit ? who also coached him two seasons in Minnesota ? concurs about his point guard, who has averaged over 16 points-per-game since joining the team.  ?Chauncey is an elite point guard,? said Flip Saunders, who took over the Pistons? coaching job from Larry Brown this season.  ?He?s able to make shots and distribute the ball.  He?s like a quarterback ? like Peyton Manning.  He?s able to read who?s hot and control the tempo and flow of a game.  He has total command.?

Billups started playing basketball in his home town of Denver when he was 9 in 1985.  ?I dreamt about this back then,? he said.  ?This has always been my dream.?  His game has always been a mixture of assists and points as he has accumulated over 400 assists in a season three times in his career.  But he has obviously taken his game to another level during the past two years on the Pistons.  ?I?ve experienced a lot of battles ? seen it all,? he reflected.  ?This team is nothing new.  But I?m older ? I?ve learned.?

As for his coach?s comment that Billups has become an elite player in the league, Billups was both pleased and encouraged.  ?It feels good,? he said.  ?I have a lot of confidence.  I feel like I?m there.?

"They Are For Real"

Corey Maggette and Elton Brand might not be a tandem in the mold of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen at this early juncture, but they are solidifying their position with each succeeding game.  

Last night in Los Angeles, guard-forward Maggette and power forward Brand went for 24 points and 30 points respectively and thrilled a packed Staples Center crowd who hasn?t seen this level of Clippers play in 14 years.  At times rising to a fever pitch, the excitement at Staples carried the Clippers to a needed victory over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-90.

The 11-5 Clippers, first in the NBA?s Pacific Division, are slowly grabbing the headlines from the more heralded and storied Lakers, their co-tenants at Staples.  In fact, with the exception of Laker guard Kobe Bryant, one could make the case for the star power currently residing in the Clippers? locker room.

They desperately needed to right their ship Saturday night after three losses in their last four games.

?It?s exciting,? said Brand, the recent recipient of the Western Conference Player-of-the-Month, ?but we want to start something that?s going to last.? When asked if this means that the Clippers might be bound for the playoffs for the first time since the
1996-1997 season, Brand said, ?You can bank on it.?

One can sense the connection between Brand and Maggette who were roommates for a time at Duke University in 1999.  Both men are 26 and have leadership qualities not exhibited on the team since Danny Manning led the franchise from 1998 to 1994.  In fact, Brand, with 24.1 points-per-game thus far, is possibly on track to have the greatest individual Clipper season since Bob McAdoo, who led the team in the mid-1970s when they were located in Buffalo, New York.

Speaking of star power, Brand was matched with nascent superstar LeBron James, who started slowly but finished with 30 points.  James, who turns 21 later this month, is already averaging 28.8 per game and nearly led the Cavaliers to a late fourth quarter rush, though the Clippers prevailed.

No doubt Brand and Maggette had needed help from 23-year-old center Chris Kaman who provided the Clippers with a career high 19 rebounds plus 12 points in the paint.  ?I worked hard to box out and picked my spots,? Kaman said of his personal best in rebounding.

One can sense the building confidence in the Clipper locker room.  11-year veteran Walter McCarty, who did not play in the game, said, ?Playoffs?  You can guarantee that!?

Guard Sam Cassell, who played on two championship teams in Houston, said, ?I?m excited for my team.  It feels good.  Kevin Garnett told me, ?It?s not fair how much talent you have on that team.??

Another bonus for the Clippers is that 20-year-old 6?7? guard Shaun Livingston, who has been out with an injury, is feeling much better.  ?I?ll be ready to go in a week,? he said.

Perhaps no one summarized the enthusiasm about the Clippers? recent surge better than General Manager Elgin Baylor.  ?It?s a good group,? he noted.  ?They are for real.?

 

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