The Clippers have now lost four games in a row for the first time this season. After the disastrous 1-3 road trip, they came back home Monday and lost to the New Orleans Hornets, who had lost seven in a row. During the trip, most people pointed to the lack of production of the bench and the overall poor shooting as the cause for the poor showing. Really what they should have been focused on is the defense.
One thing that has been a hallmark of this team is defense. They have led the league in points resulting from turnovers, and they also are a league leader in fast-break points, which is a result of excellent defense and rebounding. Their bench has been a model for the rest of the league, playing swarming defense that has already won many games.
Most recently, teams are shooting above 50 against the Clippers. Their once-vaunted bench that caused so much trouble for opponents has gone cold. Teams are getting wide open looks and fast-break layups that once belonged to the Clippers.
Where did it all go?
The players are still the same and the potential for great defense is still there. What has been lacking is the will to play defense for 48 minutes.
The Clippers are the type of team that gets their motivation from the defensive end. The ability to cause turnovers and play fundamentally good defense results in easy opportunities at the other end. This has been the secret to the Clippers' success. It is not the great shooting of Jamal Crawford, the great play making of Chris Paul or even the high-flying acrobatics of Blake Griffin, but the hard-nosed fundamental defense that wins ball games.
Does this happen to even the best of teams? Of course it does. The NBA season is very long and it's full of ups and downs. Teams and players must be tough-minded and resilient, keeping an eye on the process of building a championship-caliber team, not on the bumps in the road. As soon as the Clippers realize they must play great defense on a night-in and night-out basis, they will be as good as anybody in basketball.
Best matchup of the week
The Minnesota Timberwolves come to play the Los Angeles Clippers in the Staples Center on Wednesday. That means that Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, the two best young power forwards in the NBA, will have a head-to-head matchup. They are both great players but could not be more different. Love is a hard-working, fundamentally sound, throwback big man that can shoot the ball and rebound with the best. Griffin is as athletically gifted as anybody in the league. His physical abilities many times transcend the game, and this year he sports a much-improved jump shot. This is the ultimate contrast of styles and should prove who the dominant power forward in the NBA is.
It is rumored that Michael Finley is attempting a comeback. I have only three words for him: don't do it! I was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks when Rolando Blackman attempted a comeback at 40. I remember distinctly the bus ride over to his first full practice. I told him he was making a big mistake and would end up getting badly hurt. Not 15 minutes into the practice he tore his Achilles tendon. One of the definitions of aging is loss of flexibility. This leads to injuries that would never happen to a younger player. Please don't, Michael. No one escapes Father Time.
Fantasy tip of the week
Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Hornets is known as a three-point shooting specialist. He is a much more complete basketball player than given credit for. He can rebound and pass, although will probably not ever block many shots. This year, for the first time in his career, he also has no competition for minutes. Although many eyebrows were raised at the large contract he received, he has now proving to be a bargain. Besides, I drafted him.
The value of a stretch-four and Mike D'Antoni's offense has become glaringly clear with the reemergence of Antawn Jamison. This is the player the Lakers thought that they had signed. And with a fast pace, wide open system, Jamison can be extremely successful. His ability to stretch the floor to the three-point line and drive the basketball has made him an integral part of D'Antoni's attack. The bigger question is, where does that leave Pau Gasol? Pau is an extremely gifted and skilled big men but he seems to be getting a little bit lost. Dwight Howard is going to get most of the touches on the block and even those are scarce at times as the Lakers play faster. I sense that Paus name may surface very soon in trade rumors again this season.