It has been a down year for the Clippers. They aren't complaining.
Their top players are all playing fewer minutes than last season, the result of a deeper bench and Coach Doc Rivers' willingness to put four or five reserves on the court at a time.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick is playing only 27.0 minutes per game, almost four minutes less than last season and the biggest drop among the starters. It's a similar story for point guard Chris Paul, whose average of 32.0 minutes is down from 34.8. Center DeAndre Jordan's minutes have dipped to 32.7 from 34.4.
Forward Blake Griffin's minutes are down just a touch, to 34.9 from 35.2, but he still ranks only 24th in the NBA among all players in that category. Jordan is the next Clipper at 47th.
The benefits may not be apparent for a few more months.
"The fresher you can be once you get to the playoffs," Paul said, "it's always a plus."
Last season, Griffin ranked 14th in the league in minutes played and Paul 17th. The heavy usage may have been a factor when Paul suffered a strained left hamstring in Game 7 of the Clippers' first-round playoff series victory against the San Antonio Spurs.
"Did that come from the whole season or did that just come from a crazy-hard first-round series?" Rivers asked Monday. "I mean, who knows that answer, but my goal is to be as good as we can be, have as many guys as good as they can be and to be as fresh as we can be."
Rivers has done that with substitution patterns that have resulted in all-bench lineups. Seven reserves are averaging at least 14 minutes a game, with Jamal Crawford (25.0 minutes) and Austin Rivers (21.9) far exceeding that.
"There's a method to our madness," Doc Rivers said, "and our thought is at the end of the year, hopefully we're fresher."
Rivers noted that his best players having logged fewer minutes may have already helped the Clippers win the finale of two recent five-game trips. They tapped into a reserve of energy to beat the New Orleans Pelicans on New Year's Eve on a night when many of their shots were short and their legs were too heavy to get back on defense, telltale signs of fatigue.
"We stuck around long enough then all of a sudden they got energy from somewhere and they won a game," Rivers said, "so that's a good sign."
Rivers said Griffin's having been in excellent condition before suffering a partially tore left quadriceps tendon should accelerate his return once he is cleared to play. The Clippers expect to have an update on Griffin's timetable by the middle of the week. … Forward Wesley Johnson sat out the team's light practice Monday as a precaution because of a foot issue, Rivers said.
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