LOS ANGELES (AP) -While it's not quite a ``Who are these guys?'' atmosphere with the Los Angeles Clippers, it's pretty close.
``It's a completely different team,'' said second-year forward Al Thornton, one of five holdovers from last year.
``It's 11 strangers on an island trying to figure it out,'' said two-time All-Star Baron Davis, one of nine newcomers.
Elton Brand and Corey Maggette are among those who left the Clippers during the offseason, with Davis and Marcus Camby the top players coming aboard.
Even with the major makeover, the Clippers believe they can contend for a playoff berth in the rugged Western Conference.
Health permitting, they appear to have that kind of potential.
``Health is a fair qualifier,'' said Mike Dunleavy, beginning his sixth year as the Clippers' coach and recently given the added role of general manager. ``I mean, if Baron goes down for 50 or 60 games, we're not going to win. But if we're healthy, I like our team. I think we can do things that are needed to win.''
this month, with Davis (injured left ring finger) and Tim Thomas (groin strain) sidelined since the first preseason game and Camby (bruised right heel) on the shelf for the entire preseason.
Dunleavy hopes Davis and Thomas will be ready to go Wednesday night in the season-opener against the defending Western Conference champion Lakers, but he's not sure about Camby.
``It's been tough from the standpoint of a little bit of the chemistry, guys playing together,'' Dunleavy said. ``There's nothing we can do about it. The young guys have gotten a chance to learn about playing in the NBA.''
Three rookies - first-round pick Eric Gordon and second-round selections DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor - are on the roster. Gordon, the seventh overall pick in June's NBA draft, should make an immediate impact.
``I don't think there's any team we can't beat (on a given night),'' Dunleavy said. ``We can defend and I think we can score. I think we can be good. I think we can be a playoff team. If something freaky happens, all bets are off.
``Baron Davis is the best guard I've coached since Magic Johnson. He's got incredible vision, he can make incredible plays, he can do it all. He just takes you to another level. He just beats people and gets wherever he wants to go on the court. In the one exhibition game he played against the Lakers, he created so many easy buckets.''
ive-year, $65 million contract during the offseason. The Clippers used seven point guards last year.
``He's going to make it easier for everybody else,'' Thornton said. ``We know Baron can score and create his own shot. But Baron is going to create easy shots for everybody and he's going to do his thing, as far as scoring the ball. Maybe now I'll be able to get some easy buckets. Last year I had to work for everything.''
Davis figures to start with Cuttino Mobley in the backcourt, with Thornton, Camby and Chris Kaman up front. Thomas, Gordon, Ricky Davis and Brian Skinner give the Clippers quality depth.
``It's a fun bunch, which makes coming to work really easy,'' Baron Davis said. ``We've got a coach who allows us to be ourselves. It comes down to trust and sacrifice and hard work. With the amount of talent we have, we should be a pretty good team. The potential is great, definitely playoff-potential type of team.
``With this team, we have yet to find an identity because we haven't played together. We're going to have to figure that out.''
Brand and Maggette signed big-money free-agent contracts with Philadelphia and Golden State, respectively. Brevin Knight and Quinton Ross are among the other players who left.
shot-blockers. ``The Clippers as a whole haven't had a lot of success out on the basketball court. We all heard the stories before of what was going on, the poor seasons that they had and stuff like that.
``No one in this room, of this group of guys, has won a championship, so I think that's what's driving a lot of these guys. There's positive energy, that's what we're trying to bring around here. Everything's changed around here, everybody's coming along.''
The Clippers have been one of least successful franchises in professional sports over the years, but came within one win of reaching the conference finals following the 2005-06 season. That was the first time they had advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 30 years.
They were eliminated from postseason contention on the final weekend two years ago, and with injuries a major factor, won only 23 games last season.
``It's tough when you've always got that L.A. Clipper thing trailing you,'' Ricky Davis said. ``But we've got a lot of guys here from different clubs that maybe can change it around and give us a good look.
``My big picture for us I think is us being like Boston defensively. And once we get that defensive thing going, I think we can start looking to run like the Phoenix Suns.''
If those things happen, the Clippers just might be playing past the middle of April.
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