Clippers’ defense improves, and so do results

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and his teammates spent time New Year’s Eve reliving Friday’s 114-101 loss to the Chicago Bulls. The game tape told a clear story.

“We looked terrible,” Jordan said.

The Clippers hadn’t put together a defensive effort to be proud of in losses to San Antonio and Chicago, allowing 115 and 114 points, respectively. But Sunday against Portland, which had been averaging 106 points, the Clippers tightened up and held the Trail Blazers under 20 points in a quarter three times in Los Angeles’ 93-88 win.

So what changed?

“We helped one another. We trusted our defensive assignments,” guard Mo Williams said. “We trusted the scheme and stayed with it even when they made their runs. We didn’t change. We believed in what we did, and down the stretch it got us stops.”

Forward Blake Griffin said the team played harder on the defensive end, too.

“It was a combination of intensity and execution,” he said. “You saw the intensity we were giving early — we got the 50-50 balls, we were scrapping, getting steals and getting out on the break. That’s what we need.”

But the Clippers couldn’t keep it going for much of the fourth quarter, allowing 36 fourth-quarter points before shutting the door at the last minute.

“We were fatigued,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “That’s not an excuse; it’s fact.”
 
NOTES, QUOTES
   –Chauncey Billups has been in the league long enough to understand the rigors of the NBA schedule. So when he saw what was in store for the Clippers this January, the veteran guard smiled.

“We’re lucky,” he said.

The Clippers leave Los Angeles for only three of their 15 games this month, taking trips to Portland, Utah and Denver. The Clippers play a fourth road game in January, but it’s against the Lakers at Staples Center.

“It’s great,” Billups said. “We got lucky to be able to try to build while we’re at home.”

–Rookie forward Trey Thompkins had to crawl to get outside out of the Clippers locker room Sunday night. With the media gathered around star guard Chris Paul, Thompkins, who sits two lockers to the left, navigated his way through the press by dropping to the floor and crawling his way to freedom.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “When Chris (Paul) throws it up there, I’m going to try to tear it down every time.” — DeAndre Jordan, on catching alley-oops from Chris Paul in the Clippers’ 93-88 win at home over Portland.
 
ROSTER REPORT
PLAYER NOTES:
   –F Blake Griffin followed up a 34-point, 13-rebound performance Friday against Chicago with 20 points and 10 rebounds Sunday against Portland. Last season, Griffin had 63 double-doubles.
   –G Chris Paul scored seven of his 17 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, when he said a point guard should take over. Paul hit the game-clinching shot, a layup over 6-foot-11 LaMarcus Aldridge, with less than 10 seconds left.
   –G Mo Williams came off the bench after starting Friday against the Chicago Bulls and dished out a season-high eight assists. G Randy Foye started in place of Chauncey Billups, who is injured.

MEDICAL WATCH
   –G Chauncey Billups (groin strain) said he was feeling better after suffering the injury Thursday at practice. Billups said he’s hopeful to return Wednesday when the Clippers are home against the Houston Rockets, but he doesn’t want to rush his recovery.
   –G Eric Bledsoe (torn right lateral meniscus) has been rehabbing his surgically repaired knee at the Clippers’ practice facility and should return in late January.
   –F Reggie Evans (right foot sprain) was on the bench for the Clippers’ 93-88 win over Portland.. Evans is expected back in the next week or two weeks, according to head coach Vinny Del Negro. He has yet to play for the Clippers.

ROTATION:
   Starters:
   –Point guard Chris Paul
   –Shooting Guard Randy Foye
   –Small forward Caron Butler
   –Power forward Blake Griffin
   –Center DeAndre Jordan
   Bench:
   –Guard Mo Williams
   –Forward Brian Cook
   –Forward Ryan Gomes
   –Forward Trey Thompkins