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Clippers practice at UNLV as new era begins

Blake Griffin was talking about improving the team’s defense. Chris Paul was simply glad to be talking basketball.

Welcome to the new world of the Los Angeles Clippers. Gone is the cloud that was former owner Donald Sterling. There’s an opportunity to continue to build on the court, as new owner Steve Ballmer will let Doc Rivers take care of all things basketball and try to get the team’s long-suffering fan base an NBA championship.

As far as the players and their coach is concerned, Sterling and his racist rants are history, a place not needed to be revisited.

“It’s exciting not to talk about that other stuff,” Paul, the team’s all-star point guard, said after Tuesday’s three-hour practice to open the Clippers’ preseason training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. “We can just concentrate on playing basketball.”

Griffin, the Clippers’ all-star forward, said: “There aren’t any distractions. Once we get on the court, it’s all about basketball. But it’s inevitable we’d be asked (about last spring).”

Sterling’s remarks during the playoffs proved to be a mighty distraction the Clippers ultimately couldn’t overcome, as they were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals. But with Sterling out and Ballmer in after spending $2 billion to purchase the franchise, everyone’s focus is on the future.

“We’re looking forward and not behind,” said Rivers, who is in his second year as the Clippers’ coach and who also serves as team president. “The guys just came out and played (Tuesday).”

The Clippers had contemplated holding training camp in San Diego. But the Memphis Grizzlies beat them to it, training at UC San Diego, where their owner, Robert Pera, is an alumnus.

UNLV was a nice alternative, and several players are familiar with the Mendenhall Center through their participation in USA Basketball, which trains there every summer.

“I’m a big believer in getting away and team-building,” Rivers said. “This is a great place for us to train. I’m familiar with the Mendenhall, and it has everything we need.

“I’m not worried about distractions. If you want to lose, go ahead and party. But this is a veteran team, and they know they’re here to work.”

The Clippers won the Pacific Division last season, going 57-25. They improved defensively, which was the key to their success. But Griffin said the team still has work to do.

“We need to get better defensively in the paint,” Griffin said. “We need to rebound better, and we need to play every possession out. Last year, we’d have great effort for 21, 22 seconds and then we’d give up a shot. We have to play great for 24 seconds.”

Paul said the team is ahead of last year’s training camp pace.

“Everything was brand new last year,” he said. “But Doc has us moving forward, and we’ve got the basics down.”

Rivers said he liked the energy on the first day as well as the execution from his team.

“It was a good start,” he said. “There’s no stress this year. We’re just playing basketball.”

The Clippers will work out at UNLV through Saturday, then open their preseason schedule Tuesday against Golden State. They’ll return to Las Vegas on Oct. 18 to face the Denver Nuggets at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Rivers said he hopes to have a smoother segue next year, when the Clippers will make just one trip to Las Vegas, train at UNLV and play their annual preseason game at Mandalay Bay, which has been a corporate sponsor of the team for the past four years.

“This was kind of a last-minute thing,” Rivers said of holding training camp at UNLV. “But we love being here, and we plan to go from our training camp right into our first exhibition game next year.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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