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New-look Clippers benefit from early trade deadline

New-look Clippers benefit from early trade deadline
The Clippers' bench reacts to a three-pointer by Landry Shamet during the second half against the Boston Celtics in Boston on Feb. 9, 2019. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

Many Clippers spent their All-Star break chasing the sun, decamping for tropical beaches in the Caribbean or the Pacific. Forward Danilo Gallinari, as is his custom, didn’t watch a second of NBA action during his Bahamas vacation.

Basketball wasn’t far from the mind of coach Doc Rivers, however. When he wasn’t golfing or celebrating the recent engagement of his daughter, Callie, to Portland guard Seth Curry, Rivers considered how the Clippers will chase a playoff berth during their final 23 games. They currently hold the eighth, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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The coach's preparation was possible because of a tweak in the NBA’s schedule two years ago that moved the league’s trade deadline before the All-Star break.

“Now, I can spend All-Star break thinking about my team instead of thinking about a trade that may affect my team,” Rivers said Thursday, before a practice at the team’s Playa Vista facility. “Especially now, when you come out of break, you don't have 40 games anymore, 35, even. You're in the stretch run.

“The last thing you want to do is come out of the break, then make a trade and then try to get — it's too late. I do think it helps us, for sure. You know what you have.”

The extra acclimation time was vital for the Clippers, who waived or traded six players at the Feb. 7 deadline and added five others. Although most players scattered during the break, the new-look Clippers did play three games after the deadline and before All-Star weekend, going 2-1, and they called that time together invaluable in getting a sense of how the pieces fit.

Rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, charged with initiating the offense on most possessions, now knows where his new teammates prefer to receive his passes. Rivers knows new center Ivica Zubac is already a better deterrent defending at the rim than any pieces the team previously had.

And Gallinari knows that a pass to an open Landry Shamet, the rookie sharpshooter acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, is likely to lead to an assisted three-pointer.

“When you see his mechanics, the way that he moves his leg, and prepares himself for the shot, it's always the same, and he does it very hard,” Gallinari said of Shamet, who has made nine of 16 three-pointers (56.3%) in three games with the Clippers. “He's great for us.”

For all they say they’ve learned in the two weeks since the trade deadline, the Clippers (32-27) enter their first post-break game Friday at Memphis still searching for many answers.

The pre-trade deadline iteration of the roster thrived on the idea few expected much of the group before the season. Its losses were often tied to its rebounding success, or lack thereof. Offensively, they attempted the league’s fewest three-pointers — 20 fewer a game than league-leading Houston.

The addition of Shamet’s shooting and movement without the ball “gives us a different offense in itself,” Rivers said. “I think in the long run that will be very good for us. ...

“I don't know our identity yet. Let's have a winning identity.”

Rivers isn't done tinkering with lineups, because forward Wilson Chandler, who arrived via trade with Shamet from Philadelphia and remains out because of a strained right quad, has yet to take the court. He will not travel to Memphis or Denver on this trip. Nor will forward Luc Mbah a Moute (left knee soreness), who has missed the last 55 games but took part in a non-full-contact drills Wednesday and was at practice again Thursday.

Rivers had “no idea” why Mbah a Moute’s prognosis has remained so opaque for nearly four months. Rivers has often said he stays out of medical decisions regarding a player’s availability until notified by team trainers.

“I know it's not anything he can do about it,” Rivers said. “He's done all the work that's been required by him and that's all you can ask for.”

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Update: Gallinari will resume playing his full amount of minutes against the Grizzlies after playing his last four games under a minutes restriction. He had previously missed 10 games because of lower back spasms. The Grizzlies (23-36) are 1-2 since the trade deadline, when they sent Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green to the Clippers in exchange for guard Avery Bradley. The former Clipper has averaged 18.7 points, on 54.5% three-point shooting and 58.1% shooting overall, and 4.3 assists since the trade.

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