(AP) — After making the league’s biggest offseason splash in acquiring superstar point guard Chris Paul, things may finally be looking up for the Los Angeles Clippers.
With a palpable level of excitement surrounding the team for the first time in a long while, the visiting Clippers open the lockout-shortened season against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas night.
Los Angeles, which has just one winning season and two playoff appearances over the last 18 years, enters 2011-12 with plenty to be excited about thanks to Paul’s arrival. After a deal that would have sent Paul to the crosstown Lakers was rejected by the league, the Clippers acquired the four-time All-Star from New Orleans for guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick.
Though Paul certainly didn’t come cheap, the opportunity to pair him with reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin was too good to pass up.
“We’re not getting caught up in the hype. We can’t control what happens in the media and what people say, but we can control what happens in this locker room,” Paul said. “We still have to go out there and continue to get better and compete. We’re just making sure guys stay focused and understand that it’s a long season.
“One thing that can’t be measured in the box score is how hard you play. And as long as we do that every night, we have enough talent that we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
Griffin averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds to rank 12th and fourth in the league, respectively. While he stands to become all the more dominant with Paul running the show, he’s trying to keep an even keel.
“Our goal is the playoffs, obviously, but I’m not going to sit here and promise that we’re going to win this amount of games, or that we’re going to go this far in the playoffs, win 60 games and guarantee championships,” Griffin said. “There’s going to be none of that.”
Besides welcoming Paul, the Clippers signed two-time All-Star Caron Butler and agreed to terms with five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups.
With its impressive offseason, Los Angeles seems all but certain to improve upon the 32-50 record it posted last season.
“We all know what we can do with this team. And with the new guys, I just think it’s going to take us to another level,” said big man DeAndre Jordan, who remained with the club after the Clippers matched the offer sheet he got from Golden State.
“We’re going to try to make a run at the postseason. With the moves that we’ve made, you can tell that we’re committed to winning this year and for years to come. I’m happy about the direction we’re going in.”
While the Warriors didn’t make nearly as much offseason noise, they’re counting on new coach Mark Jackson to help turn things around.
Golden State, which finished 36-46 in 2010-11, has missed the playoffs in all but one of the previous 17 seasons.
“We’re not going to be an excuse team,” he said. “We’re going to find a way to go get it done. We will be a playoff basketball team.
“… I’m here with a group of guys that I believe in. I’m here with a new ownership team. I’m here with a new management team, and it’s an exciting time. I really am not just hoping, I’m believing, I’m anticipating big things.”
The Warriors feature one of the more potent backcourts in the league with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Ellis ranked eighth in the NBA last season with an average of 24.1 points and Curry posted 18.6 per game.
Neither Ellis nor Curry, however, are opening this campaign as they would have hoped. While Ellis was accused of sexual harassment Wednesday in a lawsuit by a former team employee, Curry is listed as day-to-day with a sprained right ankle and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
Small forward Dorell Wright, who broke out last season with a career-best 16.4 scoring average, gives the team a formidable third scoring option while big men David Lee and Andris Biedrins look to control the glass.
These teams split four meetings last season, but Golden State has taken 10 of 11 at home against the Clippers, including three straight by 19.3 points per contest.
Updated December 24, 2011