LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin didn't need long to realize this NBA season promises to be unlike any other for the Los Angeles Clippers. Two days after the Clippers acquired Chris Paul, Griffin walked into a downtown restaurant for dinner with the All-Star point guard and teammates DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Gomes. As the players took their seats, the other patrons gawked at them and started chattering.
"It was crazy," Griffin told Yahoo! Sports of his dinner with Paul. "It was different. This is just the beginning. Before we walked in, there was just this buzz. You could feel it a little bit.
"But … we haven't done anything yet. That's the biggest thing. We haven't done anything, and we got a lot of work to do before we get to the level that we should be at."
That hasn't stopped people from wondering if the Clippers are capable of contending in the Western Conference this season. In addition to Paul, they've added veterans Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Reggie Evans. Jordan re-signed and guard Mo Williams is back. Griffin established himself as the league's most captivating young player last season while being named Rookie of the Year.
And it's Griffin and Paul who will shoulder most of the pressure for living up to all this sudden hype – something the Clippers have rarely ever experienced. Whether this season is memorable or forgettable, the focus will be on Griffin and Paul.
"It's an opportunity," Griffin said. "You got to step up and meet that opportunity. But at the same time with these guys coming in, I'm more than happy to have them here and have Chris take a large load of this team because nobody can do it by themselves.
"You have to have other people step up in big-time situations. I'm still learning the game. I'm still trying to find my way."
As soon as he learned the Clippers had acquired Paul, Griffin had a three-word reaction: "Yeah! Lob City!" And Griffin doesn't think it will be long before he and Paul are connecting on alley-oop passes – given that he and former Clippers point guard Baron Davis quickly developed their chemistry last season. In their first preseason game together, Paul assisted on three of Griffin's four baskets.
"We've talked quite a bit, especially since he's been there," Griffin said. "We've already clicked off the court. On the court, it's just a matter of getting a feel for each other, his tendencies, my tendencies and putting those together. I'm not worried about that to be honest.
"That was something Baron and I were able to get down quickly. I expect it will be the same way with the kind of passer [Paul] is."
"That's something that's going to take time," Paul said. "D-West and I played together for six years. It's actually odd being in the locker room without him because that's the only guy that had been with me my whole NBA career. I definitely know that's possible."
The Clippers hope the addition of Paul will help keep Griffin in a Clippers uniform for a long time. Paul will pass on the chance to become a free agent after this season and plans to sign an extension with the Clippers in 2013. Griffin can become a free agent in 2014.
"I like the way we are headed," Griffin said. "I like the steps we are taking. We have to keep going like that, and so far they have. Like I tell people, this is a good place to play. If things like this keep happening and we keep making steps forward, I don't see why it wouldn't be a place where people wouldn't want to come and wouldn't want to stay.
"But I'm too far away from that to start talking about [his possible free agency]. That is not really crossing my mind right now. Things are moving in the right direction. They got to stay that way."
Griffin knows his own game must continue to grow. He averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds last season and spent much of the lockout working on his defense and extending his jump shot.
"I'm going to be a more confident player," he said.
The Lakers have long owned Los Angeles while the Clippers have advanced to the second round of the playoffs just once in the 27 years since they moved here. But in a recent Fox Sports West poll, 62 percent of voters said they thought the Clippers will finish this season with more wins than the Lakers. That's saying a lot considering the Lakers have played in the NBA Finals three of the past four years and the Clippers were last in the playoffs in 2006.
"We are trying to establish ourselves in the entire league," Griffin said. "The Lakers are just one team. There are 28 others that we have to worry about. And that's our focus and that's going to be our main identity this season.
"The Lakers are popular for a reason. They've been good for a long time. Sixteen championships. Two in the last three years. It's not about us versus them. It's about us versus everybody."
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