Matt Barnes Talks Los Angeles Clippers Playoff Push, Cross-Town Rivalry and More
Matt Barnes never seems to stay in one place for long, but wherever he goes, he's always a welcome addition.
The California native has played for all four NBA teams in his home state and four others in his 10-year career.
Now in his second go-around with the Los Angeles Clippers, Barnes is enjoying his most successful campaign, both in a personal and team sense.
Last month, Grantland's Zach Lowe made the case that Barnes may be the key to the Clippers making a run in the playoffs.
He's certainly been a catalyst off the Clippers bench this year, posting career highs in points, steals, blocks, PER and win shares per 48 minutes. His high energy grit-and-grind style of play has integrated perfectly into L.A.'s lineup.
I recently got a chance to speak with Barnes on April 6 and get his take on the Clippers' team chemistry, the rivalry between the two L.A. teams and his new production company, Black Halo.
You can check out Matt's foundation, Athletes Versus Cancer, on the web.
Regarding the Clippers' March Lull
Q: You guys got off to such an amazing start, you know, that huge win streak in December, but since then it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. Before that dominant win against Phoenix, you guys had dropped eight of 14. Is that just sort of the marathon of the season taking its toll, or do you think teams have figured out how to play you guys?
"I think it’s a combination of that and, like you said, it’s a long season, you know, having injuries, ups and downs and, you know, we went through a little lull, and I think that’s where us not being together for a long time kind of hurt us.
"We’re still getting to know each other and still trying to figure out how to kind of get out of that slump, but we still have a week left. Last game against Phoenix was a good start, and hopefully we can start being more consistent and finish the season strong."
Q: From watching the games, it seems like your defense has slipped since December. The numbers say your defensive efficiency has gotten a bit worse each month. What do you think is going on with the defense and what do you have to do to get back on track on that end of the floor?
"I just think our defense is usually just all effort. And I think that’s been our problem with the ups and downs and our inconsistent play is our energy.
"But, you know, we get back to playing hard, everything else comes easy to this team. We’re such a talented team on both sides of the ball, so we get back to playing hard and everything else will fall in place."
On Being Part of the Best Bench Unit in the League
Q: I still think you guys have the deepest team in the league and the best bench unit. That lineup with you and [Eric] Bledsoe, [Jamal] Crawford, [Lamar] Odom, [Ronny] Turiaf—you guys are in the top 10 in the entire league in net rating. What do you think enables you guys to come in and basically dominate games the way you do?
"Well I definitely think with that second unit our energy is our key. With myself, with Bledsoe, and Jamal and Lamar and Ronny and Ryan Hollins, whichever one of them is in there, we have people that are flying to the ball at the defensive end and if we happen to get beat we have a big shot-blocker behind us so I definitely think our key to that is our energy and our intensity and then our ability to do a lot of different things.
"Bledsoe’s great at penetrating and finding us, penetrating and finishing. Jamal is the best scorer off the bench in the league. I’m slashing and scoring, Lamar’s slashing and scoring and we’re getting a lot of offensive rebounds from Ryan and Ronny, so I just think that the ability for all five of us to bring so many different intangibles to the game helps us play together well."
Q: Yeah, you know when you guys are out there together your defense in particular is just stifling and you guys force so many turnovers and get out on the break. Is that like a philosophy thing? Does Vinny [Del Negro] give you guys more freedom to be aggressive?
"I just think that’s the nature of our second lineup. We’re led by the best on the ball defenders, we can play teams in an uncomfortable zone, and that’s how we create a lot of our turnovers. So I think it’s on the ball pressure, trapping, shooting gaps and coming up with steals. We just set the tone with that energy and everything else follows."
On the Importance of Playoff Positioning
Q: With the recent slump you guys have had, you’ve slid back a couple spots in the standings, down to fifth, and obviously that means not only you guys have to possibly go on the road, but you’re probably going to get a tougher opponent in either Memphis or Denver if you stay in that spot. Is that something you guys are conscious of, and how important is it for you guys to move up a spot or two in the last week and grab home court or avoid one of those two teams?
"I don’t really think at this point we’re trying to avoid anybody.
"We’ve had good success against Denver. We’ve played them well, home and away. At home they’re tough, but we handled them when we’re at home. And Memphis, I think we’re up two to one in that series as well, so I don’t think at this point we’re trying to avoid anybody. I think, like I said earlier, our goal is to start being more consistent and playing better in this last stretch.
"Regardless of if we get home court or not, eventually you’re going to have to win on the road and if we happen to make it through the first round, in the second round we’re most likely going to be the road team anyway, so we just want to continue to build good habits up until the playoffs and we really do kind of control our own destiny so yes, we would like to move up if possible."
"Not necessarily. Looking from the outside in, last year the Clippers had a hell of a series with Memphis and I think Memphis was the home team and the Clippers went in there and won Game 7 on their court.
"And then Denver, you know, they’re always a tough team at home, so whoever we’re going to play, whether it’s those two or even Golden State, we’re going to have our hands full and it’s going to be a great first round test for us."
About the Rivalry Between the Clippers and Lakers
Q: Now you guys obviously have a big game coming up tomorrow against the [Los Angeles] Lakers, and you’ve been on both sides of this “Battle for L.A.” the last couple years, so you could probably say better than anyone: Does this matchup feel like a legitimate rivalry now, and what’s the atmosphere like at those games?
"I don’t really know if you want to call it a rivalry. The Lakers have won so many championships and have dominated the series in years past.
"I just think it’s a different time now. We’re a better team. On paper they’re a good team, but we’ve got the upper hand on them, so it would be great for us to sweep them in the season series for the first time in Clippers history.
"But again, we’re both jockeying for position in the playoffs, so I know it’s going to be a tough, playoff-like atmosphere kind of game."
The Differences in Playing Beside Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant
Q: You’ve played alongside both Chris Paul and Kobe [Bryant], two of the most respected leaders in the game. Can you talk to me a little bit about the differences in the way they lead their teams?
"Yeah, I mean they’re both…I’d definitely say Kobe’s more of a, uh, excuse me, Chris is a more vocal leader, you know, talking, talking, getting guys through and I think Kobe kind of just gives you that look.
"He’s not really much of a vocal leader. He just demands respect because of who he is and he just demands that you play as hard as you can when you’re on the court.
"And I think Chris is more one of those guys who can talk to you and tell you what he’s looking for and what he sees on the court because he’s such a good floor general."
Regarding Clippers' Team Chemistry
Q: Now you’ve been a part of a lot of different teams in your career. Is this the tightest locker room you’ve ever been in? What’s the chemistry been like?
"This is probably one of them. I’d say this one and Golden State, as far as so many new guys mixed in with the guys they had and the way we were able to jell so quickly.
"This is definitely a close-knit group, on and off the court. I definitely think that’s what’s led to the early success of this team, but then at the same time with everyone being so new we hit those lulls and didn’t play as well, we really got a chance to kind of see the other side of people. You know, everyone is a certain way when things are going good and you get to really see who they are when things are going bad. So trying to weather both sides of that and come up with a good product is kind of where we’re at now."
Q: Do you guys like to hang out a lot? There was a picture I saw on Twitter or Instagram a few weeks ago with you and Blake [Griffin] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan]. You guys were cooking or enjoying a meal together. Is that like a regular thing you guys do?
"Yeah, I mean, we do hang out on and off the court. Like I said, it’s a close team. The majority of us are married with kids and then Blake and DJ are the two bachelors, but for the most part my kids hang out with Chris’s kids and Willie Green’s kids and Chauncey Billups and Jamal. Everyone’s wives know each other.
"It’s a little bit easier when you know someone off the court because you know that you have that respect for them off the court so you’ll run through a wall for them on the court."
On His New Production Company Black Halo
Q: So before we go, would you like to talk to me a little bit about this new production company you’ve got, Black Halo I believe?
"Yeah, yeah, Black Halo is a production company my wife and I started. Currently we have six different projects at various production companies around Hollywood, and kind of just getting a taste of my transition.
"God willing, I stay healthy, I’ve got three or four more years of basketball. I’d like to already be set in my next career so I think I’ve been using my time, you know, off time, off days, to speak with these producers and production companies and kind of see their side of work and learning on the fly. And my wife and I love it."
Q: Is this something you’ve been interested in for a while, or is it sort of like a product of being around L.A.?
"It’s something I’ve always kind of…I didn’t go to school for it obviously, but it’s been something that I ‘ve always liked, as far as maybe a little bit in front of the camera but more on the production side.
"My wife, being on reality TV, used that as a platform to kind of build her brand and she wants to be in front of the camera as well, so I just think it’s a good combination of her being in front, me being behind, and then us working together to create great projects."