PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The Clippers are looking for something they’ve lost, but finding it won’t be easy.
The energy and intensity they showed on defense early in the season isn’t as apparent anymore, and regaining it will be important down the stretch.
“I think it’s intensity,” Blake Griffin said Friday after practice. “It’s getting back to playing the aggressive style that we were playing with before. That’s what got it for us. I’ve said it before, we made mistakes early in the season, but we were playing so aggressive that we could make up for them. That’s what we have to get back to.”
They didn’t have it in an 11-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and lately they’ve shown an inability to beat some of the NBA’s top teams, even the teams they defeated early in the season.
For instance, they beat Miami in November but lost to the Heat last month. They beat San Antonio twice in November, then lost to the Spurs by 26 points on Feb. 21. They played Oklahoma City tough on two earlier occasions but were thumped by the Thunder two weeks ago.
The loss to the Grizzlies followed two previous wins over Memphis, once on opening night and again in January.
“What are we, 10-4 in our last 14 games?” coach Vinny Del Negro asked. “But we’ve lost to four teams that we’re hopefully going to compete against in the playoffs and we’re all very uncomfortable with that. And when you’re uncomfortable you have to do something about it. That’s a good thing. It gives you a chance to grow, to improve, to recognize things.”
The Clippers got starting forward Caron Butler back after he missed the Memphis game with a strained left elbow. Butler took part in Friday’s practice and said he’s hopeful.
“I’m feeling better every day, every treatment session, getting motion and strength back. I’m feeling really good,” Butler said.
The Clippers beat a hobbled Knicks team that played without Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday in a 93-80 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Knicks have lost four games in a row, but the Clippers win was a welcome relief after the loss to Memphis.
“It’s good we’re all a little irritated because we haven’t played our best against the top-tier teams lately,” Del Negro said. “But earlier in the season we were losing to teams we felt we should have beaten and we were beating some of the top teams. It goes back and forth. You add them up at the end of the season.”
Finding their lost energy would help. No one is sure where it went, but with the playoffs approaching, the Clippers will need to stoke their fire, and quickly.
Asked where the intensity went, Griffin said, “I don’t know. I wish we had a pinpoint reason. It’s not great, especially going down the stretch here. We’re not playing terribly, but I feel like it’s one thing we’ve got to get over. We’ve had it in spurts but we need to be able to bring it against teams that are the top-tier team. We’ll find it.”
The Clippers made a roster move Friday, signing forward DaJuan Summers to a 10-day contract. Summers, who played at Georgetown, average 18 points and 7.6 rebounds in 29 games for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA’s D-League.