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LOS ANGELES – Chris Paul has a secret to stopping the new-look L.A. Lakers from clinching the NBA title next season and it's already being cooked up – literally – by him and his teammates.
Paul, the All-star point guard for L.A.'s "other" team the Clippers, insisted he was not fazed by the addition of Dwight Howard to the Lakers roster, an offseason acquisition that made the 16-time NBA champions favorites with the Las Vegas bookies. Rather than star power, Paul is adamant it will be the tightest-knit team in the league that emerges victorious and believes he has already put steps in place to foster spirit and bonding in the Clippers camp.
With the backing of head coach Vinny Del Negro, Paul instigated a series of informal meetings in which players congregate to watch NFL games and eat together with their families. Though it might seem a simple step, it is a process the 27-year-old believes will transfer directly into more victories over the course of the upcoming campaign.
"The [Lakers] have definitely added some pieces, but the good thing about our team is that we are good enough and tight enough that we only have to worry about us," Paul told Yahoo! Sports at an event in Hollywood hosted by Hennessy to celebrate Paul being featured on the cover of GQ magazine. "The thing about us, we are like a family. When you are all in and competing and you genuinely care about your teammates, it means something. It does something for your team and the camaraderie."
So when there's a football game on, the team gets together, watches the game and feasts on barbecue chicken, salad, rice and corn, all prepared by Paul's chef, of course, because as Paul said "all the Clippers are conscious of what we eat."
"For the next nine or 10 months I will be with these guys more than I will be with my wife, so you have got to build that trust," Paul explained. "There are a lot of guys who are stars in this league who don't really talk to each other as much. With me and Blake [Griffin], we can tell each other anything and that goes for a lot of our team."
While the Lakers' trade for Howard and their pick-up of veteran point guard Steve Nash has led many to suggest that they may be unstoppable, Paul is not prepared to cede any psychological ground to his same-city foes.
With him and Griffin teaming up for their second season together, Paul is confident the Clippers can be the best team in the city and genuine contenders for a championship.
"I am never going to say someone can beat me at anything," he said. "It doesn't matter who it is. What you have to remember about the Clippers is we are a lot more familiar with each other now. For example, me and Blake know each other a lot better than last year.
"Everybody finds it hard to believe, but everyone in my family knows this is the team I wanted to play for, not the Lakers. Me and Blake have really gotten close since I came here, and there is an opportunity here to get something done that has never been done before."
When general manager Neil Olshey left for Portland, Del Negro was part of a small committee that set about reshaping the Clippers bench, while leaving the core of the starting line-up intact. Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford headed the signings that brought experience and depth to the roster.
Del Negro knows that unity will be vital as his team embarks upon the new season with expectations rising and believes the extracurricular NFL sessions are a significant positive.
"You want your guys to be close, but that is not something you can force upon them," Del Negro said. "When you see stuff or hear stuff as a coach about your guys getting together and looking out for each other away from basketball, it kind of warms your heart and it makes your job a little easier.
"We have got great guys and when they do things like hang out and watch football it can only be a good thing. Chris is great in that regard. He is the kind of guy who brings people together."
Barnes, who spent the last two years with the Lakers, had no criticism of his former employers but did admit that the sense of togetherness at the Clippers may be better.
"As soon as I signed I felt like there was something cool going on and that this was a close group," he explained. "We will see, but it seems to me that it could be the closest [team] I have played on. The guys hang out and you immediately feel welcome. L.A. is home, but the Clippers organization already feels like home, too, and I owe the players for that."
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