They have so much history together that there is little LeBron James could do that would surprise Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
Joining the Lakers in free agency this summer?
“I didn’t like, wake up and go, ‘Oh my God, I’m shocked,’ or anything,” Rivers said.
Still, Saturday’s matchup between the Clippers and James’ Lakers at Honda Center in Anaheim will feel “different,” he said. ‘There’s no doubt.”
Rivers and James began their nearly decade-long run as Eastern Conference combatants during a preseason game in Connecticut 14 years ago. Rivers was in his first year coaching Boston, while James was coming off a rookie-of-the-year season in Cleveland.
As they reunite for the first time as Western Conference foes, Rivers is in his sixth season with the Clippers and James is no longer just the best player in his draft class. Now he’s discussed as one of the league’s greatest ever after eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
“LeBron has played well against the East and he’s played well against the West so he’s going to continue,” Rivers said before the Clippers’ workout Friday morning. “LeBron is going to continue to play well and he should because everyone talks about LeBron’s talent, no one talks about his work ethic. …
“When you watch him, he’s in better shape than 99.9 percent of the league, and the lesson there for all the guys who aren’t as in good shape is how are you going to beat LeBron if he’s already better and he’s in better shape?”
If much of the spotlight Saturday will be fixated on James and the new-look Lakers, the Clippers say their focus is on themselves. Specifically, what shape their roster is in. The team must still cut down to 15 players with less than two weeks remaining until the Oct. 17 season opener.
“You guys can make it about what you want to make it,” forward Tobias Harris said, “but we’re looking to get better and get our team where it needs to be so opening night, we’re ready to go.”
Where it is right now is not completely healthy.
Rivers hinted he could rest a third veteran against the Lakers. Teodosic could return “hopefully soon” before preseason’s end and Mbah a Moute is not expected to miss much time.
“It’s not bad but it’s too early to take a chance,” Rivers said of the injuries.
Whereas starters and veterans earned the bulk of minutes in Sunday’s first preseason game and younger players earned more opportunities in the second Wednesday, it will be a blend Saturday. That will mean more chances for Harris, who has made eight of 12 three-pointers and is averaging a team-high 21.5 points in the preseason.
The Clippers are unwilling to include Harris in any potential trade for Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Trade talks between the teams have not found any traction, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
“Tobias is a star,” center Boban Marjanovich said. “Tobias is a star everywhere. Tobias is a star on our show. Tobias is a star in this league. Tobias is a star when he come to a restaurant and order all healthy food and start to put some new recipe for a chef to think, ‘I can put that on my menu.’ He’s a star everywhere.”
Others have found few chances to leave the bench. Other than the injured Teodosic, five Clippers have yet to crack double-digits in minutes played: Johnathan Motley and Angel Delgado, who are on two-way contracts, guard Jawun Evans, veteran forward Wesley Johnson and training camp invitee Desi Rodriguez.
“We have so many different combinations that we can trot out there and we’re going to use them all,” Rivers said. “In no way the subs combinations that I’ll play tomorrow I would do in a real game, but that’s what exhibition season is for.”