CLIPPERS SEEKING TO IMPROVE DEFENSIVELY

LOS ANGELES – A somewhat somber DeAndre Jordan stood in front of his locker after the Clippers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, 96-85, Wednesday, and said something that would be repeated by a number of his teammates later in the night.

“We have to play better defense,” the fifth-year center said as he buttoned up a white and blue striped shirt.

It was the same thing Chris Paul uttered a few minutes later. “We’ve got to get better defensively,” Paul said in one of his briefest press conferences of the regular season. “Every night they pretty much know what we’re going to do. We know what other teams are going to do. We’ve just got to get better, communicate and be a little more aggressive on both ends.”

It’s the aggressiveness that was missing for the Clippers as the Grizzlies, winners of 14 of their last 15 games, missed only 11 shots in the opening half and shot 60.0% in the first three quarters.

In the two days leading up to their showdown with the team they defeated in seven games in round one of the playoffs last season, the Clippers talked about the difficulties that Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol posed as a high-low threat, working together. The Memphis duo combined for 34 points on 15-for-25 shooting.

“We weren’t impacting the ball as much as we need to,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “And their execution. Their high-low game is difficult and helping with their high-low going it opened up their driving lanes and their perimeter game.”

It’s a problem that has lingered for the last several weeks. Since the All-Star break the Clippers are 6-4 and opponents are averaging 98.3 points per game on 47.9% shooting. It is a dip from where the team was prior to the week off in February. But it is a canyon compared to where they were through the first two months of the season, when they ranked near the top of every defensive category and generated easy offense from their defense.

Blake Griffin said it will be imperative for the Clippers to get back to that kind of defensive mentality as they move into the final 16 games of the regular season and the playoffs.

“I think it’s defense,” Griffin said. “When we were winning games, we had that streak going and before that, I thought the way we played defensively was aggressive. We messed up at times, our rotations weren’t great at times, but I thought we did a great job of forcing teams to figure out what they were going to do against our defense.”

On Wednesday the Grizzlies defense held the Clippers to 33 points in the second half and dictated the pace of the game. It was precisely what Griffin said the Clippers did to teams in earlier months. It didn’t help that Memphis seemingly nailed timely shots whenever the Clippers made a run. Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless quelled a run with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, keeping Memphis afloat midway through the fourth quarter when the Clippers pulled to within three.

“We can do a better job of guarding the three,” Griffin said. “That’s been our downfall in games that we’ve lost, you know, poor 3-point defense. It’s something that we have to address.”

In their 21 losses the Clippers have allowed opponents to shoot 46.8% from 3-point range. The Grizzlies, ranked 24th in the league in shooting from behind the arc, were 6-for-12 (50.0%) Wednesday.

Forward Lamar Odom, who has played in three of the last five NBA Finals, said it is about finding a championship level determination.

“If you don’t have the grit then you’re not going to win the wars, plain and simple,” Odom said. “One thing about this profession, you’re going to have your day where you’re going to feel like it’s the end of the world. You just have to realize anything besides winning a championship is coming up short.”