PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – Eventually, the Clippers are going to win their franchise-record 50th game. But right now, with seven games left in the regular season and the playoffs quickly approaching, they’ve got bigger concerns.
Intensity, for one.
The Clippers play the bottom-feeding Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at Staples Center hoping to put their latest slump behind them. The Clippers have been stuck on 49 wins since beating the New Orleans Hornets last Thursday and have now lost four of their past five games.
If they plan on giving themselves a running start when the postseason begins, now would be a good time to start.
“We’ve got to win the rest of them,” forward Blake Griffin said Tuesday after practice. “We’ve got to win them all. Obviously, you say that throughout the entire season, but this is when our sense of urgency needs to be at its highest.
“This is kind of to the point where I’m tired of talking about it. I want us to go out and do it. I need to do it.”
A day later, the Clippers were still staggering from Monday’s 109-106 home loss to the Indiana Pacers, a game in which they trailed by 24 points before riding their reserves to a late-game charge.
For most of the final quarter, Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan watched from the bench as reserves Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins played critical minutes. Even Griffin conceded Tuesday that the starters were “pretty bad.”
The backups gave the team life, although it still fell short.
“It’s important that we play with that type of energy from the get-go,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But talking about it is one thing. You’ve got to go out and do it. You’ve got to execute and bring that type of energy and commitment from the start.”
The Clippers didn’t do that against the Pacers, falling behind 10-0 and missing their first four shots. But a lingering problem has been their lack of intensity and energy at a time they should be gaining momentum.
“I think it’s our aggressiveness,” Griffin said. “That’s the key term — not just offensively, but defensively, and really everything. We would see an opportunity and we would attack it. I think that’s just how we have to play. That’s what makes us at our best.”
It’s been a persistent problem, certainly since the Clippers went 16-0 in December. Their level of effort, and their record, has gone up and down in the past three months: 9-7 in January, 8-5 in February, 7-7 in March.
“We’ve got to get back to playing at a higher level,” Del Negro said. “There are still plenty of games left. We’ve just got to work through it and get a couple of guys healthy. It comes down to the energy it takes at this time of the season with all the teams fighting for position.”
The Clippers are one of those teams, but they have a favorable schedule that could allow them to finish with a better overall record the Memphis Grizzlies, who would have home-court advantage if the teams were to meet in the playoffs.Of their remaining games, only one is against a team that is currently in position to make the playoffs. That’s the Grizzlies, and their April 13 game in Memphis might determine whether the Clippers open the playoffs at home or on the road.
Their other six opponents are the Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Hornets, Trail Blazers and Kings. That’s as favorable as it gets.
But without a new sense of urgency, the Clippers won’t be able to have the advantage of playing at Staples.
All they can hope for now is that Monday’s loss to the Pacers served as a wakeup call.
“You’d love to sit here and say yeah, it’s a wakeup call and we’re going to be completely different,” Griffin said. “That’s the idea, and that’s what we’ve talked about and what we want to do moving forward. But we have to prove that.
“I’m tired of saying we’ve got to do this or do that and then go back and forth. I want our actions to speak for ourselves.”