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Clippers' first 15 games will tell them (and the rest of us) who they are

Clippers' first 15 games will tell them (and the rest of us) who they are
Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks to guard Lou Williams during a game last season. Williams was one of only four Clippers who played more than half of last season. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

During his 13 seasons as an NBA guard, Doc Rivers remembers being told by coaches such as Pat Riley and Mike Fratello that he was bound to join them someday. He, in turn, told them he would be a broadcaster.

“I thought I had the face for it,” he said.

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They were all correct.

Rivers worked as an analyst for three years after his playing days ended before being hired to coach Orlando in 1999.

Rivers initially thought he’d coach for five seasons, maybe 10. This season marks 20.

I actually loved doing TV and I had a ball,” the Clippers' coach said. “I did enjoy that but I missed being in the fray and I knew after my first year in TV that, ‘Oh boy, I need to be in the fray. … I love TV but this is who I am.’”

The years have yet to dull his excitement for a season’s first game, including the Clippers’ regular-season opener against Denver on Wednesday at Staples Center, and he’s learned a few things along the way — such as when to exercise patience.

It’s instinct not to overreact to the results from the season’s first weeks, but Rivers knows not all data points are equal. Some can act as canaries in the proverbial coal mine, signaling danger ahead.

The Clippers allowed the most corner three-pointers and points in transition last season, and that cannot happen again if there is any hope of a playoff berth.

“You can be patient in some areas, and in some areas, you shouldn't be patient,” Rivers said. “You shouldn't be patient, from a coaching perspective, if we're not good at getting back on defense. I'm not gonna be patient about that. If we're missing wide-open shots by great shooters, then you're patient with that. …

“It's proven around the league, if you give up a lot of corner threes and they’re making them, and you don't get back on defense, you're probably not gonna win a lot of games.”

The Clippers have had seven straight winning seasons, a team record. Rivers has been in charge for the last five, a span in which the Clippers have compiled the NBA’s fifth-best record. Those teams were part of the “Lob City” era, but the stars that defined it are gone. This team begins the season outside of many playoff projections.

An undefeated preseason left the Clippers feeling good about their deep lineup, but those five games offered a tiny window into this particular lineup’s potential. Just four players on the team’s 15-man roster played more than half of last season in a Clippers uniform — guards Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell and Milos Teodosic and forward Montrezl Harrell.

“We will need probably 20-30 games in order to have this great chemistry,” center Marcin Gortat said. “We have the great chemistry off the court, in the locker room, but on the court we’re definitely going to need some time.”

A clearer picture could emerge sooner than that, perhaps after 15 games, guard Avery Bradley said. Considering 10 of the Clippers’ first 12 opponents made the playoffs last season and the team is in excellent health, the Clippers could quickly have a good idea about where they stand.

“Fifteen games in I think we understand who we are as a team and what we can accomplish,” Bradley said. “Be able to be realistic with some of our goals and be able to push each other, and a good thing about this league is there’s basically two halves of the season, so I feel like if we’re able to start off right, we’d be able to make adjustments and be able to establish ourselves earlier on this season.

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“I just want to find out when we go through adversity how we’re able to stick together. I think that’s the most important thing.”

The opener against Denver is especially intriguing. Not only because Bradley and teammate Patrick Beverley, two of the league’s best perimeter defenders, will try to corral Denver’s talented backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Both Bradley and Beverley missed significant amounts of time last season because of injuries — as did Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari — and Wednesday represents a fresh start.

“I’m relieved, I’m excited,” Bradley said. “I haven’t played in six months so I’m excited to get out there on the floor and prove myself again this year. This league is all about being healthy and playing well, so now I have another year to go out there and try to stay healthy this whole year and prove what type of player I am.”

Rivers turned 57 on Saturday, and the occasion led his daughter, Callie, to send her father a reminder of his younger days. It was a link to a video from one of his stints as a broadcaster.

“She was like, ‘Listen to your voice; it’s crazy, the difference,’” Rivers said in the raspy tone that has made him distinctive. “I was surprised actually. I thought this is how I always sounded. I guess not.”

It’s a hazard of his job — one he enjoys more than he ever predicted.

UP NEXT

VS. DENVER

When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday

On the air: TV — Prime Ticket; Radio — 570, 1330.

Update: Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute (calf) is expected to play after missing four of the team’s five preseason games. For Denver, guard Isaiah Thomas (hip), forward Michael Porter Jr. (back) and forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) will not play. The Clippers are 14-11 in season openers at home.

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