Crawford joined the Clippers last summer to give the team more scoring off the bench, and he's done exactly that so far this season.
PORTLAND — Here’s a new and different pitch for a Hollywood hoop flick. This team in this movie has no Magic, no Kareem, no Shaq or Kobe. Not even Jack Nicholson. The cast of characters has changed.
In this film there’s a twist on “Winning Time.” This L.A. team, the one with the smaller locker room; the team whose games once were buried in the newspapers’ back pages; the little-loved team that had only one celebrity fan, Billy Crystal, finally has emerged from the immense shadow of its Staples Center co-tenant.
Yes, it’s still Winning Time in Los Angeles. Sure, an L.A. team still sits atop the NBA’s Pacific Division.
But the script has flipped. It’s a little like that Judd Apatow movie, “The Change-Up.”
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The Los Angeles Clippers. Who? What? Yeah the Clips, not the Lakers, are the toast of this fickle town.
This is the new L.A. Story. Winning Time II.
A true NBA story. A biopic of sorts.
And Seattle native Jamal Crawford, in his 13th NBA season, is one of the stars and enjoying a new lease on life.
This story has legs. Green-light it.
“When you factor in the winning part of it and the effect I’m having with this team, this is the most fun I’ve had since I played at Rainier Beach,” Crawford said Saturday before the Clippers’ game at Portland. “Obviously L.A. is a Lakers town. The Lakers have all the history.
“But it’s kind of cool for our fans, who have been there for the tough times, to be able to stick their chests out now and say, ‘The Clippers are playing some good basketball as well.’ “
Despite a recent four-game losing streak (the Clippers ended the skid Sunday with a 96-83 home win over the Trail Blazers, with Crawford scoring nine points)), Los Angeles still has the third-best record in the West and held a 5 ½-game Pacific Division lead over Golden State.
The Clippers had played five of their last six games without All-Star point guard Chris Paul and they haven’t had a healthy, full roster all season. But they’ve stayed on top and they’re winning the Battle for L.A
Enter Jamal Crawford, the jump-shooting, ankle-breaking offensive machine.
Last summer, the Clips knew they needed more scoring from their bench. They targeted Crawford, a free agent. Coach Vinny Del Negro called him. So did Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups and DeAndre Jordan.
“We thought he could come in and take some of the pressure off of Chris and everybody,” Del Negro said. “He can score the ball. He’s done that his whole career.”
When Crawford entered the game in Portland on Saturday night, he heard boos from Trail Blazer fans who believe he was one of the prime reasons for the team’s collapse last season.
Crawford came to Portland in the lockout-shortened season, thinking he could have a homecoming of sorts with the Blazers. He was playing as close to Seattle as he could get and he was playing for Mr. Sonic, Blazer coach Nate McMillan.
But the season unraveled. McMillan was fired and the Blazers finished 28-38.
“Last year wasn’t fun at all,” Crawford said. “I had moments last year, but the bad far outweighed the good. Coach got fired. Trades were made. And then we tried to rebuild in the same season. It wasn’t a good feeling. It just wasn’t a good fit in Portland.
“I thought with Brandon (Roy) retiring, my role with them would be being that kind of scorer. Nobody’s a Brandon Roy, but I thought that I would help fill that void. But I ended up playing a lot more point guard than I had probably since my rookie year, and that was disappointing.”
And late in the season, Crawford began hearing the whispers.
“Stuff like, ‘Maybe he’s slowing down,’ ” he said. “I used that as motivation this summer.”
At 32, Crawford is having the most complete season of his career. As the Clippers’ sixth man, he is averaging almost 17 points a game and playing so well that Del Negro and others believed he should have been named to the Western Conference All-Star team.
“I’m a little biased, but Jamal has been fantastic for us,” Del Negro said. “He might not be there (the All-Star Game), but he knows what he means to myself and the staff and the team. I was just hoping he would get the nod this year.
“It (criticism of Crawford) was a little unfair last year. The team went through some changes. I think he’s been able to play more his style of game with us. He’s played starters’ minutes and he’s been a good closer for us.”
Jamal Crawford as The Closer. Part of a new Brat Pack and a new era of hoops in Hollywood.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.