There was a certain familiarity amid all the changes.
Flourishes such as a new logo, uniforms and court design at the Clippers’ exhibition opener were secondary to the core product, which still starts with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The trio was together again Friday night at Staples Center for the first time since what could have been described as the Indecision, Jordan’s dramatic free-agent reversal in which he spurned the Dallas Mavericks to stay with the Clippers.
Fans showered Jordan with applause during pregame introductions, and it was just a warmup for what transpired throughout the Clippers’ 103-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Jordan showed why he was so widely coveted in free agency, finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds in only 26 minutes. He dunked a couple of lobs from Paul, including one with his left hand in the second quarter while being fouled by the Nuggets’ J.J. Hickson.
Jordan even displayed accuracy while flinging one of Kenneth Faried’s shoes that had fallen off in the third quarter, the sneaker landing safely behind a basket and out of play.
“He was amazing in all aspects,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
Paul collected 12 points and nine assists while making life miserable for rookie counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, who had eight turnovers and only three assists to go with 14 points on five-for-18 shooting. Griffin had 11 points and five rebounds.
Paul Pierce started at small forward in his Clippers debut but was subbed out less than four minutes into the game, Wesley Johnson taking his place as part of Rivers’ efforts to preserve a player who turns 38 in a couple of weeks. Pierce needed only 42 seconds to make an impact, stealing the ball from Mudiay and finding Jordan for a breakaway dunk, and finished with five points in 15 minutes.
“I think the transition is going to be easy,” Pierce said. “Get to the corner and make three-pointers.”
The Clippers unveiled their small-ball lineup of Lance Stephenson, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Pierce and Josh Smith late in the first quarter. It didn’t immediately impress, with little playmaking and lots of jump shots.
Stephenson did make a fourth-quarter pass to Smith for a one-handed dunk that resulted in a three-point play, Stephenson emphatically pumping his arm when Smith made the shot and was fouled. Smith led the reserves with 13 points, including a put-back with 40 seconds left that helped the Clippers hold off a late push by the Nuggets.
“The second unit, down the stretch, they were living on their offense and gave up their defense, so that’s a good lesson for them,” Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers received an instant infusion of energy from reserve point guard Pablo Prigioni, who quickly made a steal, a three-pointer and a behind-the-back pass to Griffin that resulted in a three-point play.
One thing noticeably missing were the giant pictures of Clippers players covering the Lakers’ championship banners.
“I think the Lakers stole them, so we’re trying to get them back,” joked Doc Rivers before clarifying that it took longer than normal to get them up because of the Clippers’ new uniforms.