Chris Paul and the offensive-minded Los Angeles Clippers are starting to figure things out defensively.
That doesn’t bode well for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are having enough trouble scoring.
The Clippers try to deliver another strong defensive display when they visit the Cavaliers on Saturday night.
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While Los Angeles (13-7) is near the top of the NBA with 105.7 points per contest, it’s also surrendering 101.1 to rank in the bottom third. The Clippers have allowed 93.6 during a 5-2 stretch, however, giving up 82 or fewer three times.
“It would be one thing if we knew were weren’t capable of it, and we didn’t have the bodies and the people to execute it, but we do,” said the 28-year-old Paul, among the league leaders with 2.3 steals per game. “We have myself, young, athletic guys that know what we’re capable of. I may not be athletic, but I am young.”
The Clippers were at their best in Thursday’s 101-81 win at Memphis. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks as Los Angeles held Memphis to a season-low 37.7 percent shooting.
“Our defense was keeping us there, then we finally took the game over when we started hitting shots,” forward Blake Griffin said. “That’s a good lesson for us.”
The Clippers, who suffered a 107-97 loss at Atlanta the night before, are now 10-2 when allowing 103 points or fewer.
“I thought the way we responded was good,” Griffin added. “There are challenges mentally and physically, and I think that was a mental challenge for us. We were mentally tough in that situation.”
Los Angeles had dropped 11 of 12 to the Cavaliers before easily winning 105-89 in Cleveland on March 1. Jamal Crawford led the way with 24 points off the bench while Paul scored 11 with 15 assists.
The Cavaliers (6-13) are shooting 41.7 percent, the league’s 29th-worst mark. They’ve also been limited to 92.6 points per game, going 1-11 when scoring 96 or fewer.
After posting back-to-back wins for the first time, Cleveland was handed a 108-89 loss at Atlanta on Friday. Dion Waiters had a season-high 30 points off the bench and Andrew Bynum added 20 and 13 rebounds, but Kyrie Irving was held scoreless for the first time in his career.
The All-Star point guard, averaging a team-best 19.7 points, went 0 of 9 from the field and 0 of 3 from the foul line in a season-low 20 minutes.
“I’m not worried about Kyrie’s shot,” coach Mike Brown said. “He’s going to make enough shots.”
The Cavaliers were outscored 37-20 in the first quarter and 14-4 in transition.
“We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency,” Waiters said. “Superman’s not coming in the locker room to help us. It’s just us. We’re all we’ve got so at the end of the day we’ve got to come out and play.”
Bynum is averaging 18.0 points and 10.0 boards over a three-game stretch, well above his season marks of 8.7 and 5.0. He has posted 21.5 and 11.5 in his last 10 against the Clippers, though he hasn’t faced them since April 2012 while with the Lakers.
Cleveland, which has won three of its last four on the second of back-to-backs, is 2-0 at home against Western Conference foes. Los Angeles is 0-3 on the road against the East.
Crawford is averaging 19.4 points in 24 games against the Cavaliers since 2003-04, his second-highest mark against any opponent over that stretch.