LOS ANGELES: Wes Johnson generally is a quiet guy. He speaks softly and evenly, and unlike some of his Clippers teammates (think DeAndre Jordan), Johnson doesn’t raise his voice, tease or joke around in the locker room before games.
So it’s difficult to tell if the five-year veteran is excited to be playing in his first postseason series.
“I don’t know if Wes has a heartbeat, anyway,” Coach Doc Rivers said of Johnson, who signed with the Clippers last summer.
“I mean he is as calm a guy I’ve ever been around. That doesn’t mean he’s not anxious – he may be – and you always watch for that early on.”
Johnson said Sunday that he’s not anxious, but he is excited about facing Portland in his first NBA playoffs series. You just have to trust him.
“It’s exciting, very exciting,” he said before Game 1. “The preparation for it, it’s different than regular-season games. The excitement is there.”
Johnson didn’t do much in his postseason debut, finishing with just one steal and two rebounds.
During his five years in the league, Johnson hasn’t come close to playing in late April. Forget May or June. He played two seasons in Minnesota, one in Phoenix and the previous two with the Lakers.
Still, Johnson had faith that someday, this day, would come.
“I knew eventually I would get here, but it came sooner than I thought because the last couple years because of the team that I was on, and by midway through the season we knew what was happening.
“But now I’m on a team that is contending. It (team) has something to play for.
Johnson has been a key part of the Clippers’ revamped bench. He averaged 6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and in 80 games. He led the team in steals 17 times and ranked first in the NBA with a1.65 steal/turnover ratio.
“Wes does what we ask him to do, and that is, ‘When you’re open, shoot the ball.’ If he can do that well for us, it’ll really help us,” Rivers said.
Playing in your first playoff series can tweak your nerves, even if you don’t show it on the surface. Teammate Jamal Crawford said he would tell Johnson simply to relax and play. Enjoy the moment.
“When you put more pressure on yourself or think about it too much, that’s when things don’t go as well,” Crawford said. “It’s still just basketball – more intensity of course, but it’s still just basketball. He needs to be himself, have fun and play hard.”
Austin Rivers knows the feeling. The guard experienced his first playoff games last season with the Clippers. He said he gained insight from some of the team’s veterans.
“They said to relax, go play,” Austin Rivers said. “Relax go play, do what you do, the same thing.
“The only difference about the playoffs is that it’s higher intensity. Everything you do, you do better. Everything you do, you do with a higher intensity. That’s it. Just go out there and compete. Try to win the game. That’s all you can do.”
Johnson said he consulted a veteran of playoff wars and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
“He told me to be myself. Nothing is going to change,” Johnson said. “Just be myself.”
Crawford was presented Sunday with the inaugural Elton Brand Media Recognition Award by the Los Angeles Clippers chapter of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. Crawford was honored for his professionalism with the media.
The Clippers reserve said being media friendly isn’t difficult to do.
“I just try to be as …” Crawford said, pausing to find the right word.
“Yeah,” he said. “I always just try to be as honest as possible. It’s easier that way. You don’t have to think or formulate anything. I think.”
Crawford said speaking to the media gives players a platform, a voice.
“The way I look at it, every time you speak, you put your brain on display,” Crawford said. “Every time you speak you show how intelligent you are. Sometimes, you don’t say the smartest things; it all comes out.
“I just try to be as positive as possible, and try to be as honest as possible.”
The headlines shocked him, and those words continue to bother Crawford despite the distance of time and miles.
As a new guard with the Trail Blazers in 2011-12, Crawford and Raymond Felton reportedly had turned the team against Coach Nate McMillian and were orchestrating a mutiny.
At the time, Crawford disputed the report but still opted out of his contract after that one disastrous season and signed with the Clippers in 2012.
“I didn’t envision it going the way it did,” he said. “Me quitting and starting a mutiny or whatever? That caught me off guard.”
But his short stay in Portland didn’t spoil his appreciation for the city. He said he looks forward visiting the city because of “the crowd and it’s close to home.”
Crawford grew up in Seattle.