The absences of
There was no need.
Aldrich and Prigioni will never be confused for All-Star-caliber players, but the journeymen were exactly what the Clippers needed Wednesday without their frontcourt stars.
Aldrich started at center and scored a team-high 19 points while thriving in pick-and-roll situations alongside point guard
Their presence during the Clippers' 104-90 victory over the Heat provided more evidence of how
"He was very aggressive in terms of adding all sorts of different talent," ESPN analyst Tom Penn, a former assistant general manager with the
Widely panned for his team's thin bench last season, Rivers has supplied a bounty of options that have sparked a 10-game winning streak. The Clippers have persevered thanks to an ensemble approach even with Griffin sidelined the last nine games because of a partially torn left quadriceps tendon.
It wasn't just newcomers Aldrich and Prigioni who helped beat the Heat; eight players whom Rivers signed last summer made important contributions.
Luc Mbah a Moute and
It was Rivers' belief that his players were capable of these kinds of performances that kept him from mentioning Griffin or Jordan in the locker room before the game.
"I think you have to do that," Rivers said of emphasizing a next-player-up approach, "because guys all can play. So you just trust them."
Of course, it took some time for Rivers to figure out how to best utilize the resources he had given himself. He started the season with Smith and Stephenson in his playing rotation and the team struggled, its record barely above .500 after the first two months.
Then Rivers inserted Aldrich and Prigioni into his second unit. Prigioni took over the primary ballhandling duties, allowing Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford to be more assertive in attacking the basket. Aldrich created space with continual rolls toward the basket that freed his teammates for open shots.
Now it's the Clippers who are on a roll, owning the
Mbah a Moute, capable of guarding all five positions, has become the lockdown defender the team needed to complement Jordan. Pierce has stretched the court with a recent hot spell of three-point shooting. Johnson has made some timely shots and used his length effectively on defense. Austin Rivers is in the midst of the best sustained stretch of his career.
Almost every newcomer has found a role in which he can thrive.
"Doc the coach has had this period of time to give everybody a chance and then settle in on what he likes," Penn said. "It will be another challenge when Blake comes back incorporating him and his touches and his shots into the successful rotation that he's identified."
Penn said he didn't believe the Clippers, as currently constructed, were good enough to beat the
"They'll be wise to have their eyes and their ears open to see if there's a deal that they could make that would make them better versus a club like Golden State or San Antonio," Penn said. "I think [the Warriors and Spurs] should unplug all their phones because they have proven to be exceptional and the Clippers aren't there yet. But they have settled on a really good rotation here that has created quite a bit of success."
The absences of Griffin and Jordan could actually help the Clippers over the long term. Aldrich and Smith are logging extra minutes, giving them experience that could benefit the team later in the season.
"These guys missing games is giving other guys an opportunity to build their confidence," Paul said, "and that way when they come back it just adds that much more depth to our team."
It also gives Doc Rivers belief that he can rely on someone besides his stars in a crucial situation. He largely has himself to thank after his summer harvest.
"It's great to know that you have that," Rivers said, "and that can help you."