CHEMISTRY NOT AN ISSUE FOR CLIPPERS

Clippers huddling around Coach Vinny del Negro

PLAYA VISTA – Chemistry can be subjective.

Just ask the Clippers (50-26). Despite 50 victories and moving to within a win, or Golden State loss, of their first division title, there is a perception that the team has lost the defining composition that helped propel them to the best record in the league through 41 games.

“Obviously, we’re not playing the same,” Blake Griffin said after Friday’s practice. “We haven’t played quite at the same level, but the chemistry and the way we get along as a team, nothing has changed. If you’re in our locker room you see us talking and joking around and even throughout the games we feel the exact same. It’s not like we don’t talk to each other now.”

There is something, perhaps, to be said about the difference between winning and losing. The Clippers are 18-17 since the final victory in their 17-game winning streak and 11-9 since the All-Star break. They have lost four times in their last six outings and head into Sunday’s matchup with their Los Angeles neighbors chasing the Nuggets and Grizzlies for a top three playoff seed in the Western Conference.

“I think part of it is the frustration of knowing we need to play better and we haven’t on a consistent basis,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said of the perception that the team does not have the same chemistry. “We’re going to have to up our level of play here at the end of the season and there’s a responsibility that goes with that for everybody.

“The level of our play has to be higher because of our record and the level of publicity we get because teams are coming after us more.”

The level of play certainly increased against Phoenix on Wednesday, when the Clippers scored at least 28 points in each quarter and re-discovered the sense of urgency defensively that they said has been missing too often. But as they head into the final six games (three at home and three away), the Clippers are focused on building on that moving forward.

“It’s frustrating to lose any game, so whenever we lose a game we have dialog, we talk about it whether it’s on the road, on the flight, text, whether it’s in film session,” Caron Butler said. “Guys vent out, but we don’t continue to take it home and let it eat away at us. We talk about it, we build from it and we try to get better.”

Griffin said when teams are winning, the dialog, even when harsh or direct, can be construed by outsiders as constructive. But when a team is losing it tends to spiral the other direction.

“Through that 17-game streak, through when our chemistry was at its height, we had arguments in the huddles,” Griffin said. “There would be times when guys would be like, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ And it would be a heated exchange. But that’s what happens on teams. It’s just a matter of where you go from there.

“I don’t think it’s ever with bad intentions especially in the heat of the game. Sometimes you’re going to say things. That’s the biggest thing, that’s the best part about this team is we’ve been able to say things to each other and we know it’s to help ourselves and help get us to another level.”

GRIFFIN RESTS FRIDAY

Griffin, who has been dealing with a bruised calf, spent Friday's practice shooting free throws and watching. 

Del Negro said he wanted to take advantage of the timing between games to give the superstar a chance to rest. In the last 10 games, Griffin has averaged 14.5 points and 6.6 rebounds, including a career-long drought of eight games without scoring 20 points. 

“Blake’s had a softball in his calf for seven games or eight games or whatever it is,” Del Negro said. “He’s been battling through that. He didn’t practice today. I wanted to give him yesterday and today.”