By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Widely viewed as the best team in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers harbor realistic hopes of winning their first NBA title this season with the championship pedigree of coach Doc Rivers now at the helm.
Acquired from the Boston Celtics in June in exchange for a future draft pick, Rivers has already made a big impression on the Clippers players since his arrival in Los Angeles, urging his new team to play with both freedom and responsibility.
Rivers certainly speaks with authority as one of only four active coaches to win an NBA title and J.J. Redick, who scored 13 points in the Clippers' surprising 116-103 loss to the Lakers in Tuesday's season opener, is already impressed.
"He has been as good, if not better, than expected and I had high expectations," shooting guard Redick, who joined the Clippers in July from the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal, told Reuters about Rivers.
"He's the reason I wanted to come here. I have talked to guys around the league that have played for him and they all speak very highly of him. It is a pleasure to be here and play for him."
Asked what most impressed him about Rivers, seven-year league veteran Redick replied: "A number of things. I have just enjoyed his approach every day during the pre-season, his focus on getting our team to improve.
"He's always talking about holding everyone accountable, preaching team work and the importance of the team over the individual - all that stuff that championship-level teams do."
Redick, who scored 12 of his 13 points on five-of-seven shooting in the first period on Tuesday before fading, has played under two inspirational coaches, former Orlando Magic mentor Stan Van Gundy and Duke University's Mike Krzyzewski.
He described both Van Gundy and Krzyzewski as "great" coaches who were genuinely "original" in the message they tried to pass on to their players, and has now elevated Rivers into that company.
"When coaches like that speak to you, you get goose bumps sometimes," Redick, 29, smiled. "It's so refreshing to play for coaches like that. Doc has been great with us every day during the pre-season.
"The other day he said to us, 'I give you freedom but with freedom comes responsibility' and I certainly feel that as a player and I think the team feels that collectively.
"We have freedom to make plays and play to our strengths and we have to make the right play. That's the responsibility on us, to make the right play."
Rivers joined the Clippers after nine NBA seasons with the Celtics where he amassed a record of 416-305 in the regular season and 59-47 in the postseason, including an NBA championship in 2008.
He had no wish to be part of a rebuilding period in Boston and his arrival in Los Angeles enabled the Clippers to re-sign six-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul on a long-term deal.
Paul had long expressed his desire to work under Rivers and, like Redick, he has swiftly developed a deep appreciation for the new Clippers coach's attention to detail.
"It's a respect factor," Paul said. "If we're doing a drill, we won't go to the next one until we do it right. That's one of the things about our team this year, there are no shortcuts."
Ever meticulous, Rivers was not at all happy with his team's defense against the Lakers on Tuesday, especially given that they ended up outshooting their opponents by 49 percent to 45 on the night.
"I was really concerned at half-time," Rivers told reporters after the much more fancied Clippers had been beaten by a Lakers team playing without the injured Kobe Bryant.
"We were shooting 57 percent, they're shooting 41 percent and we're up two points. I told our guys those are awful signs ... because if you're shooting 57 percent, you should be up 20 (points).
"I thought we lost our composure a little bit, I thought we lost our discipline maybe more. I don't know if we were not humble or not but we were not prepared. I always say that starts with me and then it goes to them. But it's just one game."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)