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Cliff's Edge
Lee Jenkins
March 25, 2013
WHEN NOT IN THE GUISE OF HIS MUSTACHIOED, INSURANCE-PEDDLING ALTER EGO, ULTRAINTENSE POINT GUARD CHRIS PAUL HAS MADE THE CLIPPERS NOT ONLY THE HOTTEST TEAM IN L.A., BUT ALSO A THREAT TO WIN THE WEST
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March 25, 2013

Cliff's Edge

WHEN NOT IN THE GUISE OF HIS MUSTACHIOED, INSURANCE-PEDDLING ALTER EGO, ULTRAINTENSE POINT GUARD CHRIS PAUL HAS MADE THE CLIPPERS NOT ONLY THE HOTTEST TEAM IN L.A., BUT ALSO A THREAT TO WIN THE WEST

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Paul has made the Clippers tighter and tougher, but also smarter. Point guards facing deficits late in games typically let the ball roll toward half-court before picking it up, to conserve time. Paul lets it roll almost all game, to save seconds on the shot clock. When the Clippers are in the bonus, he tells an official exactly what he plans to do, in hopes of coaxing a call. Paul knows the rule book as well as a referee. He has lobbied Stu Jackson, the vice president who handles discipline for NBA, to penalize perimeter players who keep one foot inside the three-point line during free throws, a common violation that's rarely called. If Paul were a baseball player, he'd be stealing signs but not throwing spitballs. "He takes it to the legal limit," says Laton, his high school coach, who remembers when Paul used to eavesdrop on opposing benches.

Whether or not the Clippers reach the Finals for the first time in the franchise's 43-year history, they have discovered a little man with a boundless spirit who relates to their plight and takes up their cause. Paul's backup, Eric Bledsoe, averaged 3.3 points and 1.7 assists last year. Through Sunday he was up to 9.0 points and 3.2 assists. "There are times Chris will be sitting down, and he'll see a play where Bled should have attacked a guy, and he's just itching to get up and get into him," says Robert Pack, an L.A. assistant coach. "He wants so badly to teach him." Pack played point guard for USC in 1989--90 and '90--91, when Johnson was a Laker, and he didn't miss a game, whether at the Forum or on TV. "Magic would yell at his guys, 'Go hard, big fella! Roll hard! I'll get you that ball!'" Pack says. "He'd get on them, but then he'd pat them on the back. It was just like Chris."

Modern athletes often claim to lead by example, which usually means they don't lead at all. Of course, Bledsoe can improve if he is watching Paul, but he can improve more dramatically if he is watching and hearing him. "Chris wouldn't talk so much," Bledsoe says, "if he didn't care." So Bledsoe listens, Odom runs, Green braces, Jordan screens, Griffin leaps, Darrell hoots, and afterward they all feast on cupcakes.

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