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NBA Beat: Clippers succeed with holdovers after offseason additions falter

Without Blake Griffin, the Clippers have needed more than assists from Chris Paul, who is averging 21.1 points per game in January. ... Paul, who is averaging 11.6 assists per game in January, passes the ball during an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Los Angeles.
Without Blake Griffin, the Clippers have needed more than assists from Chris Paul, who is averging 21.1 points per game in January. ... Paul, who is averaging 11.6 assists per game in January, passes the ball during an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Associated Press

The Los Angeles Clippers made plenty of changes in the offseason.

After their embarrassing collapse in the Western Conference semifinals against Houston, things had to change.

Los Angeles added forward Josh Smith and forwards Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce to improve a second unit many blamed for the Clippers blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Rockets.

But not everything new is better.

Los Angeles is fourth in the Western Conference at 28-15, even though All-Star forward Blake Griffin has been out since Christmas with a partially torn quadriceps tendon.

The Clippers have won 12 of 14 and found their groove as two of the bigger-name additions, Smith and Stephenson, took on smaller roles.

Smith was traded to Houston on Friday. Stephenson has played more than nine minutes only once since Christmas, in a blowout win over Philadelphia. He sat out six of the last 10 games.

With Smith gone, there is speculation Stephenson will be dealt. The Clippers would be the second team, after Charlotte last season, to decide they’re better without Stephenson, who was a borderline All-Star with Indiana before signing with the Hornets.

Meanwhile, the Clippers seem to have figured out what works best for them. Of course, that’s point guard Chris Paul being aggressive and leading the way, center DeAndre Jordan being active around the basket, and off-guard J.J. Redick shooting well.

At its best, Los Angeles can compete with anyone in the playoffs.

Without Griffin, the Clippers have needed more than assists from Paul. He’s averaging 21.1 points and 11.6 assists in January.

“(Paul) just has to shoot,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “Obviously, you want them all to go in, but every time he shoots, he (creates) another option for our offense, and when he doesn’t shoot, especially when teams start playing him not to shoot, it takes something away from our offense.”

Rivers was asked if the Clippers know their identity, considering that some of their best play has come without Griffin.

“I think we’re pretty sure who we are,” Rivers said. “I like our team. I think we’ve bought in to the defensive end. I think we know the pace we should play (at) every night and spacing, so I think we’ve definitely figured that out, and that just helps us. ... It just makes us that much better (when Griffin returns).”

Trending up

Tyronn Lue received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Friday when he replaced fired coach David Blatt.

Rarely does the coach of the defending Eastern Conference champion get fired after leading a team to a 30-11 record midway through the next season. Now Lue could become an instant coaching star and be known for more than the guy Allen Iverson stepped over in the 2001 NBA Finals.

All Lue has to do is not lose the locker room and lead a team with LeBron James to the NBA title.

Trending down

More talking heads are decrying fans selecting the starters for NBA All-Star Game after Dallas journeyman center Zaza Pachulia came within about 14,000 votes of being elected.

Pachulia received more votes than Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki.

Pachulia’s campaign was bolstered by hip-hop star Wyclef’s endorsement and a strong push from his native country, Georgia.

Last words

“I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this can happen. It’s just bizarre.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who is also president of the NBA Coaches Association, on Blatt being fired with an 83-40 record and an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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