LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are healthy again and eager to make a run to the Los Angeles Clippers’ first NBA championship in their sixth season together.
DeAndre Jordan, fresh off helping the U.S. win gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford also are back, with the team opting to keep its core group together.
They’ll be surrounded by several veterans who joined the Clippers in the offseason, including 12-year pro Dorell Wright, 11-year pros Brandon Bass and Raymond Felton, eight-year pro Marreese Speights, who left Golden State, and seven-year pro Alan Anderson.
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“This feels like the perfect storm with guys who want to win,” said Crawford, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award for the third time last season. “It’s not about anything individual. It’s all about winning.”
Rookies Brice Johnson of North Carolina and Diamond Stone of Maryland will try to fight their way off the bench under Doc Rivers, not known for playing newcomers much.
“We got a lot of new guys,” Redick said. “Our first meeting I only recognized like six guys in there. It’s about getting everyone acclimated to how we play. We’re going to be one of the best teams in the league.”
Paul Pierce said Monday he is returning for this 19th and final NBA season. Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Austin Rivers are back, too.
“We’re one of the better teams and now we have to back that up on the floor,” the elder Rivers said at the team’s media day.
The Clippers went 53-29 in the regular season and then lost to Portland in the first round of the playoffs, when Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.
The franchise has yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
“Every year after you lose in the playoffs it adds fuel to the fire,” Griffin said. “We’ve tried to learn from the past.”
Griffin broke his right hand in a fight in January with the team’s former assistant equipment manager. He played just 39 regular-season games.
He wrote a letter to Clippers fans that was posted online last week apologizing for last season.
“It was a chance to be honest and tell exactly how you feel,” Griffin said. “That’s what I felt in my heart. I felt like it was important.”
Paul, Griffin and Redick are eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
“It’s part of the discussion, but our focus is on the season,” Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers open training camp Tuesday and their first exhibition game is Oct. 4 at Golden State. They open the season on Oct. 27 at Portland in a rematch of last season’s playoff opener.