A year removed from its time as the most dynamic and high-profile reserve corps in the NBA, the Clippers’ new second unit is still seeking to find an identity.
“Last year, I think we hit it off really, really quick and I think we were ahead of the curve,” said Jamal Crawford, who is one of three holdovers from a season ago. “Now, we’re trying to put a new group together.”
The second unit this season is expected to play an integral role again. How much will that compare to last season, when they ranked in the top four among NBA benches in every major statistical category, remains to be seen. The preseason, to some degree, has been a mixed bag.
They have shown progress, such as turning a five-point deficit to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter against a Jazz team that had four starters on the floor Wednesday. And they have showed regression, losing a 17-point lead in Phoenix a week ago.
“It’s a work in progress that’s for sure,” Crawford said. “I think each day we’ll get a little better, a little bit more comfortable at it. Last year we had a special group as far as everybody knowing their role and knowing how to play off of each other, but there’s no doubt we’ll get to that level. We’re just not there yet.”
The group of Crawford, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins has been without forward Matt Barnes, who along with Crawford was one of the five most efficient players on the roster during their 2012-13 56-win regular season. Barnes returned to practice Thursday after sitting out seven games with a sore left calf. His absence has certainly been felt.
“Matt’s huge for that unit,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “Not having Matt also hasn’t allowed us to play the correct small units that we want to play.”
Barnes is expected to play in the Clippers’ preseason finale on Friday.
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