Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 12/20/11
LOS ANGELES This is still Kobe Bryant's town, but if LA is big enough for two basketball teams, maybe it's also big enough a few more stars. The Clippers have Blake Griffin, and Monday night they introduced Chris Paul to Staples Center. By the end of the night, there was no mistaking what he's going to bring to his new team. No one should read too much into their 114-95 victory over the Lakers, but it looked and felt very much like a new day for a franchise that has always been the "other" team in Los Angeles. The Clippers finally have an identity. Exhibition games are little more than glorified practices, but Paul just a few days and a couple of practices after his arrival from the New Orleans Hornets in a momentous trade made it clear he's going to make good things happen for the Clippers. "It's easy to play with a guy like that," Griffin said. "The way he passes the ball and the way he moves around on the floor, it's easy. You just have to find your space and be ready to catch one of his passes." Paul had the kind of line that Lakers fans are used to seeing from Bryant: 17 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 5 steals in 24 minutes. He moved the ball quickly down the floor, got the ball inside to his big men and controlled the game's tempo. Watching him play, you had to wonder if the Lakers were seething. He could have been -- and probably should have been -- theirs. They had already worked out a trade with the Hornets before NBA commissioner David Stern suddenly quashed it. Now he's giving Clippers fans reason to expect good things. All he needs is more time. "I felt pretty good," he said. "It's just going to continue to come with time. We've still got to keep feeling each other out and learn where guys like the ball and things like that. But I think we did a decent job tonight learning on the fly." Officially, his first alley-oop pass came with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first quarter when he lobbed a pass to center DeAndre Jordan, who slammed it with gusto and then flexed for the crowd. A few minutes later, Chauncey Billups, who is transitioning from point guard to shooting guard, tossed the ball off the glass for Griffin, who dunked it and received a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long. You got the feeling the Clippers were enjoying their coming-out party in front of a sellout of 18,643. And they were. At one point, they led by 27 points. "We had a lot of fun tonight, but we have a lot of work to do," said Griffin, who had 12 points. "We just have to keep plugging away." For starters, this was impressive. Paul and Billups, despite having little time together in practice, looked comfortable together. Billups had a team-high 23 points and made 4 of 6 three-pointers as he adjusts to his new role. "As long as I'm in a position where I can kind of switch up and bring it up still do some of the things I've always done, that process will speed up," he said. "But it's really not about me. It's about our team coming together." That's happening already, but no one is getting too excited after just one exhibition game. Still, given how little time they've had together, particularly Paul and Billips, this one was big step forward. "They play off each other real well," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said of his backcourt. "They're good friends, and Chauncey is like a big brother to Chris. They can feed off one another, and Chauncey has tremendous range on his shot. He's strong, he can get in the lane. He makes the game easier for everybody. Obviously, Chris can do the same with his penetration, his quickness in the pick and roll and then running the break for us." Their ability to draw defenses will open things down low for Griffin, Jordan and Caron Butler. "Just the way they command attention on the floor," Griffin said. "You can't leave them alone. You saw Chauncey hit big shots, and Chris, the way he handles the ball and passes is unbelievable." But it's still an adjustment for Paul. Last week, he was in New Orleans, where the arena was a two-minute drive from his home. Now he's in LA, fighting rush-hour traffic and trying to figure out which freeways lead to Staples. It's going to take time, he said. Before running out to the court for the first time Monday, he recalled glancing down at his red road uniform with the words "Los Angeles" in script across the front. So surreal. "Before we ran out of the tunnel, I told Chaunce, 'Man this is crazy.' " Paul said. "It just didn't feel the same. It feels like a new beginning." It is for Paul and for the Clippers.
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