5 things: Clippers climb above .500 with win over Timberwolves

The revolving door continues

The Clippers started Luc Mbah a Moute, their fourth small forward, and it’s clear there’s a problem here. Mbah a Moute was solid — he finished with 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in 23 minutes. Though he might be the Clippers’ best perimeter defender, his stone hands and lack of range (he went 2 of 3 from deep, but he’s a career 30.1 percent 3-point shooter) hurt the starter’s spacing and flow. He was the only starter to finish with a negative plus-minus for the game (-2), and that’s not a coincidence. Rivers said before the game that he’ll keep adjusting the fifth starter until he’s happy, and it seems like he’s going to keep looking.

Lance doing Lance things

Make that two consecutive games now that Stephenson has looked like the player the Clippers envisioned when they gambled and acquired him this summer. Whether it was skying for rebounds, leading the fast break, or driving and kicking to shooters, Stephenson excelled while playing to his strengths. There were moments of questionable shooting, dribbling and passing, as there always will be him. But he was a net-positive (he led the bench with a +7). Stephenson finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. "When he comes down and plays downhill and makes decisions like a Magic [Johnson], then he is really good," coach Doc Rivers said.

Slowly but surely

The Clippers’ defense is still a work in progress. As it stands, they’re 19th in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s below-average for a contender — you want to at least be sniffing a top-10 defense — but their effort and execution have been better lately, and it seems as if the new guys are beginning to grasp the system. A quick fix would be mixing the bench with the starters more — particularly DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, the team’s two best defenders. Ultimately, though, it’s going to come down to the wing rotation. Stephenson, Wes Johnson and Mbah a Moute are solid-to-good defenders; Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford are not. If the latter two don’t start to hit their shots, there might need to be a redistribution of minutes.

Like a broken record …

Wing defense remains the Clippers’ Achilles heel. Besides Paul and J.J. Redick — who is more of a team defender than a one-on-one stopper — there is no consistent defense from the perimeter. Andrew Wiggins (21 points of 7-of-15 shooting) didn’t exactly torch them, but his performance, combined with Zach Lavine (18 points) and Andre Miller’s (11 points), kept this game far more competitive than it should’ve been. The Clippers are not a team that recovers well when leaks in the perimeter bleed over into the paint — that’s when they give up uncontested shots near the rim or behind the arc, and is then out of position when a shot goes up, allowing offensive rebounds. 

The time is now

With the Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic in town over the next week, the Clippers have an opportunity to pad their win total and get back to an acceptable record before a trying five-game road trip. A team with this much top-end talent and depth should not be close to .500 nearly a quarter into the season. A home stretch is usually the remedy for a struggling ball club, but Doc Rivers doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Rivers said that, while he’s worried about his team’s recent play, when they’re ready — and he believes they’ll be sooner than later — it won’t matter where they’re playing. That said, he doesn’t like losing at home. "I don’t think you should lose home games ever, and the fact that we’ve lost some bothers me more than anything," Rivers said.