When most contending teams go through a rough patch, like the Los Angeles Clippers are currently enduring, they talk about keeping their focus on the big picture: winning a championship.
But Doc Rivers & Co. are taking a different approach. They’re thinking smaller. They’re focusing on a game-by-game basis. The Larry O’Brien trophy couldn’t be further from their minds.
"The big picture doesn’t matter anymore, starting Game 1," Rivers said following the team’s 99-89 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. "It’s the game-by-game picture. The big picture is talked about during preseason, during the summer. Once the season starts, there’s no more big picture us. It becomes single-game goals. That’s all we can have."
This isn’t to say the Clippers don’t have long-term goals and aren’t ready to embrace the pressure that comes with being one of the top teams in the Western Conference. It just means they have to remain hungry and stay in the moment.
"Why would you run from it?," Rivers said of the team’s championship aspirations. "If someone says, ‘Hey, we picked you to win the championship.’ What do you do? Say, ‘Oh, don’t pick me, please’? … You shouldn’t run from goals that are achievable. You just shouldn’t. It’s cowardly."
Despite his laissez-faire attitude toward the preseason, Rivers has one concern outside of the team’s 2-6 record: their performance on the glass.
Ballmer’s Staples Center debut as Clippers owner was an energetic one
The Clippers were a bottom-10 rebounding team last season, and entered Friday’s play as the worst rebounding team in the preseason. To no surprise, the Blazers outrebounded them 49-39.
"I thought it was a miracle, personally, that we did what we did last year with the way we rebounded," Rivers said. "I was worried about it all year, worried about it going into the playoffs. It’s hard to win games when the other team keeps getting the extra shots. That’s still a very big concern of mine."
Rivers said rebounding drills will be the emphasis at practice next week, but the Clips have only six days to clean up their act. They face the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season, on Thursday, Oct. 30.
"I’m glad it’s here," Rivers said of the regular season. "It’s nice to play some of these games. It is time. I think at this point everybody is eager. I don’t know if we’re ready, or if whoever we’re playing is ready by opening night, but I think they’re all ready to play."
Here are five takeaways from Friday’s game:
Oh Jamal, where art thou?
The Clips’ second unit has primarily run through Jamal Crawford the last two seasons, and this season will be no different. But with Crawford sitting out tonight with an unknown ailment, the bench’s offense devolved into a mess. "When Jamal doesn’t play our second unit has not been very good," Rivers said. "It’s been amazing how bad they are without him." Spencer Hawes (9 points, 4 of 8 shooting) and Jared Cunningham (12 points) were effective, but the rest of the bench struggled.
A troubling trend
Rivers made rebounding a point of emphasis this preseason, but his message has not been received well. The Clippers came into Friday averaging 35.7 rebounds per game, which was not only 30th overall in the NBA, but almost four rebounds less than the 29th-ranked team (39.3). The Blazers won the rebounding battle (49-39), and were able to dominate points in the paint as well (40-22) Friday. This, more than anything else, is the greatest concern heading into opening night.
Let’s put this to rest: Blake Griffin’s jumper is for real. Griffin, who finished with 21 points, has consistently knocked down 16 to 20 foot jumpers all preseason and tonight was no exception. He finished 9 of 12 (75 percent) on shots from 10 feet and beyond. Griffin shot a respectable 37.1 percent from the mid-range area last season, according to NBA.com/Stats. That’s only going to improve, and if he can get into the low-to-mid 40s range, he’ll join the upper echelon of elite shooting big men.
Defending the arc
Last season, the Clippers had the best 3-point defense in the league. Their effort regressed this preseason, though, as they ranked last in 3-point defense heading into Friday. Despite the Blazers being an elite 3-point shooting team — they had the seventh-best 3-point percentage (37.2 percent) and finished third in attempts per game (25.3) last season — the Clips held them to just 8 of 29 shooting (27.6 percent) from deep. Portland missed some gimmies, but the Clippers’ rotations were better.
Does any of this really matter?
As their record indicates (2-6), the Clips played poorly this preseason. However, we’ve seen this before from contenders biding their team until the regular season starts. Preseason results rarely have a correlation with regular-season play. The San Antonio Spurs went 3-4 last preseason, and they ended their season just fine. It’s too early to worry, but if LA’s sloppy play continues into next week, you can start locating the panic button.