A free agent acquisition in the offseason, Crawford is the league's leading scorer off the bench, averaging 17.1 PPG. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers Reserves Bring the Wood

A Tribe Called Bench. Lob Deep. Mob City. Lawler’s Law Enforcement Agency… Whatever you call the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench, you can’t deny it’s the most entertaining and effective in the league.

Players six through 14, eight of whom were acquired in the offseason, have played the entire fourth quarter in four of the Clippers’ last seven games. Lately, it’s been the starting unit exchanging strategic body blows, withering its opponents, and setting the stage for the reserves to deliver the knockout punch in the final act.

Not only does the deepness of the Clips’ bench come in handy when the first unit gets into foul trouble, but it will keep legs fresh during the grueling late-season stretch—a period during which the young, inexperienced and banged-up Clippers did not thrive last year. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler all were injured in the playoffs last season.

Head Coach Vinny Del Negro has become quite adept at stirring the pot and inserting his second unit liberally to create great chemistry throughout his squad, much like Emeril Lagasse mixes up a giant pot of bouillabaisse. Bam!

Statistically the Clippers’ bench is ranked third in the league in total points scored and fourth in  points averaged with 41.6 PPG. Defensively the unit is ranked first in steals, second in blocks and fourth in rebounds with 17.5 RPG.

With steady, veteran hands like perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford; Lamar Odom, who’s rounding into game shape; a more experienced and healthy Eric Bledsoe; solid cogs Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins and Willie Green—not to mention the currently injured Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill—the Clippers’ bench mob can best many other teams’ starting units.

“I think they are one of the deepest teams in the league. They have a lot of players that have been, or are capable of being starters on other teams in the league,” Toronto Raptors guard Demar DeRozan said of Lob Deep. “They all play their game. They are all inside of their element. They aren’t trying to do too much. They just all play their game.”

There are few teams in the league that can beat the Clippers’ versatility and lineup flexibility for 48 minutes. The experience the Clippers’ bench is getting early in the season is invaluable and has shown that they are more than capable of holding a lead while learning how to lock teams down and close them out.

The team’s stick-togetherness is most evident during crucial stretches. This past weekend, the Clippers had back-to-back 12:30 p.m. starts, and in both games, the second unit bailed out the starters from a deficit at halftime and keyed the team to victory in the second half.

On Sunday against the Raptors, the Clippers’ reserves, who played virtually the entire fourth quarter (Butler came in with 1:36 to play after Barnes was ejected), outscored Toronto 25-10 and went on an 18-1 run. Each of the 10 Clippers who played in the game registered at least one basket.

Crawford, who usually plays starter’s minutes and is the league’s leading bench scorer, had tallied double figures for 28 straight games, a streak dating back to last season that was finally broken last night against the Charlotte Bobcats, when he scored nine points.

The Clippers’ current winning streak stands at eight games, their longest in 21 seasons. A Tribe Called Bench came through again against the Bobcats, with Barnes chipping in 19 points and Bledsoe adding 13. With the win, the Clips maintained sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division and face the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

The Clippers’ reserves even have garnered the respect of other coaches in the league. Count Phoenix Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry as one such admirer.

“They’ve got by far the best bench in the NBA,” Gentry said after his Suns lost to the Clippers 117-99 on Dec. 8. “It’s not even close I don’t think. When you bring in Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford and this kid [Eric] Bledsoe, the improvement he’s made this year…I think Ryan Hollins and [Ronny] Turiaf this year have both played really good basketball. I’ve seen gameswhere the second unit has really gotten separation for them. In the games they struggled, the second unit is really the one that’s got them back in games, so when you’re that deep and you’re loaded with veteran guys and good young players like Bledsoe, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be thinking about playing in June.”

But make no mistake about it, these aren’t your father’s Clippers—they’re not even last season’s Clippers. With a second unit playing with so much fervor and ability, the Clips are positioning themselves to be one of the Western Conference’s top seeds come playoff time. Like it’s rap group namesake, the strength of the whole comes from the sum of its parts.

Tags: A Tribe Called Bench Bench Scoring Blake Griffin Caron Butler Chauncey Billups Chris Paul Eric Bledsoe Grant Hill Jamal Crawford Lamar Odom Los Angeles Los Angeles Clippers Matt Barnes Ronny Turiaf Ryan Hollins Vinny Del Negro Willie Green

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