Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 3/3/12
PHOENIX Whatever the Clippers have needed in the last three months, all they had to do was ask Neil Olshey and . . . (italics) voila. Sign Caron Butler, win Chauncey Billups in the amnesty auction, trade for Chris Paul, give Kenyon Martin a landing spot after returning from China, picking up Reggie Evans and digging through the D League dumpster for Bobby Simmons. The Clippers might have had J.R. Smith, too, if the Knicks did not have nearly 4 million more to offer him. But the Clippers general manager has some news for those who think there is a major move to be made before the March 15 trade deadline for a team that looks like it has hit a rut in recent weeks. Midas has left the building. "If that's where the bar is right now, then people are delusional," Olshey said. "If we do anything, it will be to add a role player." The message is that the Clippers, after remaking their roster since the lockout ended and spending most of their assets to acquire Paul, will have to make it work from within. Once nipping at the heels of Western Conference leader Oklahoma City, the Clippers are now just percentage points ahead of the Lakers for third place and 1 games ahead of seventh-place Dallas after falling to Phoenix, 81-78 on Friday night. They are 6-6 since losing Billups to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury, and have embarked on a grueling March in which they will play 20 games. The current six-game trip will only get more stern: Houston on Sunday, then Minnesota (which has already beaten the Clippers twice in Los Angeles), New Jersey and San Antonio. The loss to the Suns underscored some of the issues the Clippers must address. Just like recent losses to San Antonio and Minnesota, they struggled to close out games. And though their defense has made incremental improvement the last two nights, they were outrebounded by the Suns and their offense went south. Kenyon Martin, who had 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block, was the only Clipper who looked anywhere near peak form. "I felt like we were dead," Griffin said. "We didn't have it. Talking to everybody, there wasn't a lot of energy, but no excuse. They played last night as well. We've got to find it somehow on the second night of a back-to-back." The improvement the Clippers are looking for must come in three areas: improving their defensive efficiency (the Clippers are 22nd with 107.1 points per 100 possessions), 3-point defense (28th in the league at 37.1 percent) and better offensive execution down the stretch. With so many new pieces, no training camp and few practice days, the Clippers transition from exciting young team to championship contender will not be a straight line journey. "I don't remember a team who started one season and won the championship trophy that year," said Phoenix center Marcin Gortat, who reached the NBA Finals with Orlando. "The Clippers have a really great team on paper, but they're losing some games that they're not supposed to lose." Phoenix guard Shannon Brown, who went to three consecutive Finals, winning twice, with the Lakers, observed: "The only way to do it is as a team. You've got to learn how to play basketball, learn how to win and that's not easy because they're a young team and even though they have a couple veterans, none of them have ever won." That inexperience was evident Friday with Griffin. He scored 17 points, but made just 6 of 19 shots being defended mostly by Channing Frye, who on most nights presents as much an obstacle as a Saguro cactus. But Frye, who is 6-foot-11, crowded Griffin, bothering him when he went right, and Griffin struggled to find his jumper. "I made it too complicated on myself," said Griffin, who said that Frye did not bother him but that some of the physical play allowed by the officials did. "Guys were allowed to really bang against me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I like physical play, but sometimes it's a little more than others. Sometimes it goes from being physical to just bumping and stuff like that. But that's on me. I've still got to play through it." If Griffin was chagrined, it was probably because, with the Suns ahead 74-72 and the shot clock running out, he was called for a loose ball foul with 39.1 after the Clippers had knocked the ball loose from Steve Nash toward midcourt. Instead, the foul, which was called an instant before the shot clock expired, sent Nash to the free-throw line and he sank both shots. "You hate to see a great game like that come down to a shot-clock violation foul," said Paul, who made a 3-pointer to draw Los Angeles within one, but had his game-tying attempt with 13.3 seconds left blocked by Grant Hill. Had the Clippers made a few more plays down the stretch, it might have been a rousing victory. They trailed by 11 points to start the fourth quarter, and after harassing Nash into back-to-back turnovers, Mo Williams sank a 3-pointer to tie the score at 70 with 3:59 to play. But until the final second, Paul was the only Clipper to score. If Paul could have used some more help at the end Billups would have been nice he agreed with his general manager that the solutions ahead will have to come from within. "That's the plan," he said. "I never depend on trades. I'm going to battle with the group I've got in here every night."
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