Crawford a super sub for Clippers

He’s going to be 35 years old in March. His skills should be in decline. His 14 seasons in the NBA should have sufficed.

But Jamal Crawford’s not ready to quit his basketball career. Not even close.

The Los Angeles Clippers’ reserve guard was selected as the NBA’s Sixth Man Award winner last season, the second time he’s been so honored (he won it in 2010 while with the Atlanta Hawks). He’s on a team that needs his skill set and his experience if the Clippers are serious about being contenders for the NBA title.

“God blessed me with the body type and the ability and I love the game,” Crawford said of why he continues to play. “I try to be good to the game.”

Crawford and the Clippers, who are under new ownership with Steve Ballmer, are back in Las Vegas tonight to face the Denver Nuggets in an NBA preseason game at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

The game has now become an annual event, and the Clippers extended their connection to Las Vegas by holding their training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center this month.

Crawford said it was a perfect place for the team to build some chemistry and get ready for the season. All the negativity surrounding the franchise during last year’s playoffs involving former controversial owner Donald Sterling has disappeared.

“It’s great,” Crawford said. “It’s exciting for us to be in Vegas, where they don’t have a team and the fans can come out and watch us. It’s all positive.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers knows he has a special component in Crawford — a veteran who can play both ends of the floor, can accept whatever role is designed for him, yet deliver a consistent effort.

“Jamal wants to win,” Rivers said. “I thought it was very important for me to allow Jamal to be Jamal. That’s what made him a great player. But I asked Jamal to do more stuff. I asked him to defend. I asked him to be a ball-mover when we put him at the point. And he accepted the coaching. How many teams have a guy that you can bring off the bench and give you 20 (points)? We want to win, and Jamal is going to be a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

Crawford said Rivers’ trust in him last year had a lot to do with his success, which saw him average 18.6 points and shoot 87 percent from the foul line.

“Doc has a reputation which precedes him, so everybody was on board with what he wanted from us,” Crawford said. “I know what to expect every single night. There’s a trust between Doc and all of us.”

Crawford’s time to win a title is now. He doesn’t have eight or nine years to wait. But he believes with Rivers in control of the basketball operation, Ballmer injecting renewed enthusiasm into the franchise as well as some much-needed stability, plus a roster that is talented and deep, the Clippers are ready to take the next step and contend for a championship.

“I think so,” Crawford said. “The West is tough, and San Antonio is the cream of the crop. But we now have everything in place. We have a great coaching staff, we have the players and we have new ownership. All the distractions from last spring, they’re gone. We just have to stay healthy.”

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

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