PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Most nights, a career-low scoring game from Blake Griffin would be reason for general panic among the Clippers. But it wasn’t Monday night.
Even though Griffin whiffed on 8-of-9shots against the New Orleans Hornets and scored just four points, the primary concern at practice on Tuesday was defense — how to keep other teams from getting inside and how to protect the ball when forcing turnovers.
The Clippers’ four-game losing streak and general malaise of late didn’t leave them feeling too good, especially after they got off to a fast start and scored impressive wins over the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Lakers, among others.
Monday at Staples Center, they were beaten by the struggling Hornets. The problem wasn’t Griffin’s off night, it was preventing New Orleans from getting so many uncontested shots.
“No one’s real pleased, obviously,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s something you have to deal with. You can’t run from it; you have to handle it. When you’re 8-2, you’re real smart and everyone is talking about you. Then you lose four in a row and you’re 8-6, and now you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The Clippers were an effective defensive team through their first 10 games, but they’ve had trouble shutting down opponents lately. The Hornets and the Hawks, who beat the Clippers on Saturday night in Atlanta, each converted 51 percent of their shots. New Orleans also made 60 percent of its 3-point attempts (15 of 25).
“We got back to the basics today,” forward Caron Butler said. “We got in here, went through practice, went over rotations, some defensive things, and it was a real good practice.”
Butler was one of the few Clippers who had a good game. He made 12-of-24 shots and set a team franchise record with nine 3’s. His 33 points marked the first time this season a Clipper scored 30 or more.
But with the Minnesota Timberwolves coming to Staples on Wednesday night, it’s defense the Clippers are concerned with.
Opponents, Del Negro said, “are getting so much penetration the last few games. Our closeouts have been poor. We’re giving too much middle penetration, not finishing plays off when we need to, and we haven’t done a very good job handling the ball in terms of our turnovers. When we get a stop, we’re giving it right back to teams, and that’s been frustrating.”
Del Negro acknowledged that a lot of the Clippers’ problems can be remedied by an increase in energy level, something they showed earlier this season but were clearly missing on the road swing that ended with losses in Brooklyn and Atlanta.
“Every game presents different problems, but you still have to bring energy and understand what we’re trying to do,” Del Negro said. “But if you don’t bring the energy at the defensive end and create things like we did … and then offensively, I think we’ve been a little stagnant. We haven’t moved the ball as well (and) our spacing hasn’t been as good. But I don’t worry as much about that as I do about the consistency at both ends, and we haven’t been consistent.”
That includes Griffin, whose previous career low was seven points. He missed all six shots he took in the first half, made four turnovers and fouled out in the fourth quarter. The only basket he made was a dunk off a lob pass from Willie Green.
“Blake will find his rhythm,” Del Negro said. “There’s lots of other things he can do besides score the ball — rebound, guard. He’s so athletic, he can do a lot of things. But I’m not worried. His offense will be fine.”