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John Schuhmann

At 9-6, the Clippers (led by Blake Griffin, 32) still have plenty to figure out.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Clips have the pieces; they just have to put them together

Posted Jan 26 2012 11:18AM

The Los Angeles Clippers have talent, depth and star-power. They have the league's second-leading shot-blocker, a top-10 scorer and arguably the best point guard in the game. But while they've provided plenty of highlights, they've yet to find consistency on either end of the floor.

At 9-6 after Wednesday's loss to the Lakers, the Clippers have the fifth-best record in the Western Conference. They've had some impressive wins that have made them look like contenders. And though they've been blown out a couple of times, five of their six losses have come against teams with winning records.

At times, the Clippers have played great defense, like when they held the Heat (who rank second in the league offensively) to less than 90 points per 100 possessions on Jan. 11. And at times, they've proven to be potent, like when they scored 102 on the Lakers (who rank seventh defensively) in a slow-paced game three nights later. But they haven't been able to put together a string of strong games.

The league averages a point per possession. Until Wednesday, the Clippers' offense had yet to eclipse that mark three games in a row. And only once has the Clippers' defense held its opponent under that mark in three straight games.

A win is a win, no matter how it comes. But it's hard to figure out just what kind of team the Clippers are because they've yet to find a consistent formula for success.

They have found a clear formula for failure, however. The Clippers have been awful defensively in five of their six losses, and below-average in the sixth.

Efficient, and not
Clippers' efficiency in wins and losses
Result Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Wins 93.7 104.3 95.1 +9.2
Losses 92.5 100.3 115.2 -14.9
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Overall, the Clippers rank ninth offensively, scoring 102.7 points per 100 possessions. But they rank 25th defensively, allowing 103.0. And nobody can consider them a contender with a bottom-10 defense.

Note: The formula used to estimate possessions has the Clippers with 18 more possessions than their opponents. That's why they have a negative point differential per 100 possessions, even though they've outscored their opponents by 13 points.

The Clippers were missing Chris Paul for five games, but his absence hurt their offense more than their defense. In fact, they were slightly better defensively in those five games (102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they've been in the 10 games he's played (103.4).

The only real consistency the Clippers are getting is coming from their starting lineup, which has been strong both offensively (scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions) and defensively (allowing just 93.9) in 169 minutes on the floor. But their defense has fallen off dramatically when Vinny Del Negro has gone to his bench.

The Clippers have the 10th best defense in the first quarter, but the third-worst defense in both the second and fourth quarters. And the team's plus-minus numbers reflect the dropoff when subs are in the game. The five L.A. starters all have a positive plus-minus, while the nine reserves are all on the wrong side of zero.

Even in the five games that Paul missed, with Randy Foye starting in his place, the Clippers' starters were fine ...

Lining them up
Efficiency of different LAC lineups
Lineups GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Paul, Billups, Butler, Griffin, Jordan 8 169 89.9 108.1 93.9 +14.2 +46
Foye, Billups, Butler, Griffin, Jordan 5 72 92.0 106.0 88.4 +17.7 +28
Others 15 483 94.6 100.4 108.2 -7.8 -61

As a whole, the Clippers don't do anything particularly well defensively. Though Paul is tied for the league lead in steals per game, they don't force a lot of turnovers. Though Blake Griffin ranks fourth in rebounds per game, the team is in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage. And though DeAndre Jordan ranks second in blocks per game, they rank 20th in defending shots inside of five feet.

The Clippers are bad at defending beyond the arc and they commit too many fouls.

Don't get defensive
LAC defensive rankings
Category Value Rank
Opp2PT% 46.0% 12
Opp3PT% 38.1% 28
DREB% 72.3% 21
OppTORatio 15.6 20
OppFTARate .342 28
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTORatio = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTARate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Again, this is where the bench comes in. Clippers' opponents have shot 41 percent from 3-point range when Mo Williams has been on the floor. And Reggie Evans is among the league leaders in fouls per minute. The Clippers have allowed an atrocious 116 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with Evans and Williams on the floor together.

The Clippers are a team that was thrown together at the last minute, and they've had a pretty tough schedule (when it comes to opponent quality). But they've had more practice time than anybody, having played the fewest games in the league. And they've yet to find an identity beyond "Lob City."

They'll be able to get by with a top-10 offense. But if they want to truly contend in the Western Conference, they'll need to improve defensively.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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