Is it just coincidence the Clippers haven't lost a game with Chauncey Billups back on the bench? Had he traveled with the team during the disheartening triple game road trip would there have been all the talk about L.A. threatening to denounce Vinny Del Negro as coach? Painting a picture of frenzy in the Clips locker room? Most likely. It's not as if the Clippers are blowing teams out of the water in these recent home wins, helping them to their first four game win streak since February.
But one thing's for sure. Billups makes them better. On the court. On the bench. Standing on the sideline. Just being there.
Chris Paul says it's no secret that Billups gives them an advantage. A sounding board. A winning presence. He needs to travel with the team.
Last night, towards the end of the tight battle between Portland and L.A., the ESPN camera caught a great angle of the Clippers huddle: Del Negro squatted in a typical coaching position, five players sitting in front of him.
But the one guy who was talking? Billups. And all eyes were pegged on him. The team was looking to him for advice -- and it's not the first time. At least once during each of the last several home games, it's apparent that he is a key cog in what L.A. is doing. (Hence a suggestion from Bill Simmons that Billups just take over as coach.) Billups is the Wizard of Lob City, only not hidden behind a giant curtain.
Kevin Arnovitz explains the scene on TrueHoop:
"In the preceding huddle (Clips down one with 13.9 seconds to play), Chauncey Billups, in street clothes and saddled with a boot, implored the team to forget about the preceding possession. With Randy Foye up in his face, Crawford launched a ... well ... Crawfordian, high-arcing contested jumper that gave Portland a one-point lead. With the Clippers' starting five and coach Vinny Del Negro listening intently, Billups also offered tips about how to free up Paul in the event the Clippers' point guard would be blanketed by the rangy Nicolas Batum."
Dynamics matter. One guy can very well make a difference between a win and a loss, whether playing or not. Much of it comes down to trust. Mutual respect for one another. A belief system within a team. It's great to see the Clippers execute strategy, but even greater to see them working together, particularly after a tough couple weeks of banter and cheap shots.
Oh -- It's nice to have Chris Paul, too.