Lou Williams is expected to play when NBA restarts, Clippers coach Doc Rivers says
Unable to gather and play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clippers during the last three months rested their championship ambitions on the strength of their Wi-Fi, the depth of their phone conversations and their discipline in the face of uncertainty.
Picturesque Instagram updates masked the difficulty of putting the season on pause, second-year guard Landry Shamet said. For a solid month his energy was sapped, his motivation drained.
“I think you’d be surprised if you saw the real picture of a lot of people in their quarantines, for sure,” he said.
Considering the unprecedented circumstances, the results have been encouraging, coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday, when teams were allowed to hold mandatory individual workouts at their practice facilities.
As the team inches toward a full reunion later this month with the NBA on the verge of resuming its season in Florida, all signs point toward the roster being at full strength when the Clippers restart their schedule July 30 against the Lakers. Rivers said that includes veteran guard Lou Williams, who last month said he was “50-50" on heading to Orlando to resume the season.
Now comes the truly hard part the Clippers — keeping it that way.
Obstacles to regaining the team’s pre-shutdown form abound, Rivers and Shamet acknowledged Wednesday during video calls with reporters. The Clippers were 44-20, the second-best record in the Western Conference behind the Lakers, and riding a wave of health and momentum when the season was suspended in March.
Fast forward to July and there are concerns about injuries after such a long layoff. COVID-19 cases have risen dramatically in Florida in recent weeks. The Walt Disney World campus will provide a measure of protection, but the isolation required will test teams’ mental health during what could be a three-month stay.
“Obviously the only choice I would have is to not go, and I don’t want to do that, I want to go play,” Shamet said. “It’s just a matter of coming to terms with what’s going on and just going down there with the right mind-set of, ‘OK, this is a boot camp,’ and just go and make the best of it. Be locked in, be in the right head space and just go make the best of it.”
On the day teams were required to inform the league about who will be part of their 35-person travel parties, Rivers said Williams, the team’s third-leading scorer and the league’s all-time leading scorer by a reserve, is expected to join the team when the Clippers depart July 8 and that no players are expected to opt out.
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Williams, an influential voice in the locker room and a deadly scorer whose combination with center Montrezl Harrell powered the NBA’s highest-scoring bench, had voiced reservations that playing would distract attention from the national protest movement that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Obviously up until we get on the plane, anything can happen, but I do expect Lou to be with us,” Rivers said. “I would be very surprised if he’s not.”
Williams also expressed a desire for all players to be heard on social justice issues in Orlando. Team owner Steve Ballmer told The Times on Monday that he supports players who speak out against racial inequity.
“We certainly encourage our players to speak out on issues that are important to them,” Ballmer said. “I would never want to get in the way of a player doing that. And we don’t.”
Rivers said that no one “that I know of” within the team had tested positive for COVID-19 during the league-mandated round of testing in late June. He added, however, that he was concerned by the rising numbers of cases in Florida.
“There’s a lot of things that we can do that can slow this pandemic — I don’t think any of us know what to do to stop it, and so that’s what we’re all trying to do,” Rivers said. “I’m hoping, quite honestly, and it’s just a hope, that when we get to the bubble, it becomes the safest place in America. But we don’t know any of this.
“I guess this is the only political statement I’ll make on it. It would be great if we had national leadership, which we have zero on this, and so unfortunately, everyone is left to do their own thing from state to state and in some places from city to city. It’s absurd. But what we’re going to try to do once we get to Disney is to protect each other, protect the area. But we have to get there. You know, you’re almost nervous about that.”
For all the wariness, there is also optimism. Rivers called himself happy to be back to work.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any lack of urgency whatsoever,” Shamet said. “We only have eight games to ramp up to the playoffs.”
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