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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
"A Tribe Called Bench"
The bench group have been a huge catalyst in the Clippers' 14-game winning streak.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you're not familiar with what "A Tribe Called Bench" is, look it up.

It's one of the most unheralded, yet critical groups in the league.

It is the nickname for the Los Angeles Clippers bench unit.

(And, possibly the most idiotic nickname in sports history. It's a play on a A Tribe Called Quest, a hip-hop group, but the reference is outdated a bit and, well, I hate it.)

With frequent All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin getting the starts and most of the headlines, and deservedly so in some cases, the Clippers second unit has been dazzling.

They have been a huge catalyst in the Clippers' 14-game winning streak that has propelled them to the best record in the NBA. They had 22 wins by the end of Christmas. Nine times since the 1981-82 season, the Clip show didn't win 20 games all season, so this team appears special.

The bench group with the horrendous nickname is led by Jamal Crawford, the 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year, who seems destined for the award once again.

Crawford leads the NBA in bench scoring with 16.8 ppg, and on Christmas Day, posted his league-best 12th game of 20 or more off the bench. Los Angeles is 10-2 in those games and the next-closest player with 20-plus off the pine is Charlotte Bobcats' guard Ramon Sessions with seven.

Crawford isn't the only one producing for the Clips. Matt Barnes, primarily known as a good defender and an agitator, is fourth on the team in scoring at 10.6 ppg on 50 percent shooting from the field.

Eric Bledsoe scores 9.1 ppg. Lamar Odom has worked his way into some type of physical condition resembling a professional athlete and is contributing. Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins also provide toughness.

The Tribe averages over 44 ppg.

"It's very unique," Paul said of his super subs. "Every team in the league would love to have what we have. Teams usually have one or two dynamic players that come off their bench, but we come in with a group of starters."

No more was the value of the bench more evident than Christmas night against the Denver Nuggets. The reserves tallied 64 points, 25 rebounds, 14 assists, six steals and three blocks.

The Clippers blew the game wide open with a 42-point second quarter. Crawford and Barnes combined for half of the points.

"We had good bench production tonight, especially in that second quarter, and at the end of the third a little bit to withstand their run. Just a good, overall team effort." said head coach Vinny Del Negro.

The reserves see plenty of fourth-quarter action, and so far, so good. There's been no public displays of anger about the head coach's minute distribution.

Against the Nuggets, three starters - DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and Willie Green - played less than 20 minutes. Three bench guys - Crawford, Barnes and Odom - logged more than 30.

But Del Negro has to go with the hot hands. He's got a ready-made nucleus with Paul and Griffin. Del Negro can mix and match around those two and the results speak for themselves.

A team needs willing veterans and willing youngsters to be so reliant on its bench. The guys whose names get introduced in a cloud of darkness, pyrotechnics and crappy music still carry the swagger. In L.A., those starters are buying into the team philosophy.

Winning will help with that.

What's potentially terrifying is that this group could get stronger. Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill are both expected back imminently from injury. Billups will return to the starting lineup when he does. And, Billups will probably take some late-game minutes from Barnes and Crawford.

There are other good benches in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have a strong, versatile second unit. Believe it or not, the Washington Wizards bring a high- scoring punch off the bench, but that's probably because head coach Randy Wittman can't figure out which five guys to start on any given night.

But there's no second-string group more vital to the success of the team than the Clippers bench. There is no reserve corps playing more meaningful minutes for a team and no pack providing more production.

Now, if their nickname was just a little stronger...

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- The Brooklyn Nets fired head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday. The team was 3-10 in December and Johnson just doesn't seem to connect with his players totally. This group looks completely lost and has the whole month, so this is no shock.

- Deron Williams made comments recently about he preferred Jerry Sloan's offensive system in Utah to Johnson's in Brooklyn. That's wonderful, but Williams needs to be careful. He is perceived to be the reason Sloan retired from the Jazz and now many will say that he was the cause of Johnson's departure. No player wants to be saddled as a guy who gets coaches fired. It's hard to build relationships that way. Plus, Williams has won exactly the same number of championships as my Aunt Mary Jane, so it just doesn't sit well. He makes a lot of money and plays in New York now. The scrutiny will only intensify, so he may want to knock down a few more jumpers before answering questions.

- Does Phil Jackson go to the Nets? Would the triangle, that wasn't good enough for the Los Angeles Lakers, but did win 11 championships, work in Brooklyn? Who knows, but remember this - Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants to make a splash and has the coin to do it. The replacement might be a big name. Jackson might be the guy, but either Van Gundy brother makes sense.

- The Raymond Felton broken finger injury that will cost him four to six weeks is not catastrophic for the New York Knicks. Yes, he is the second-leading scorer and top assist man, but Jason Kidd can slide over to the point full- time and Iman Shumpert is close to returning, so the Knicks can get by for a little while without him. Shumpert and J.R. Smith can man the "2" and Kidd and Pablo Prigioni can handle the point. Throw in Ronnie Brewer and you've got yourself a stew.

- I think complaining about officiating is childish, but the Knicks don't get superstar calls. What's troubling is how they respond to it. The Knicks complain way too much and way too outlandishly, forcing officials to dole out technicals.

- The NBA on Christmas is a fantastic showcase for the sport's best. Things I didn't like about the Christmas schedule was, 1.) the holiday uniforms made specifically to sell them and turn a profit, and 2.) there were a few too many incidents between players that forced separations. Don't need that on a showcase day.

- Movie moment - Got "The Dark Knight Rises" on DVD for Christmas and have watched several times. Here's my question, how does Bane shave? Does he take the mask off to hit the head and face? Is there a goatee under the mask?

- TV moment - I heard "Nashville" is pretty good. I will never know.


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