DEFENSE NOT ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS

PLAYA VISTA – Evaluating a team’s defense as whole is not necessarily an exercise in stat tracking.

Sure, there are metrics that provide a baseline: points per 100 possessions, for example. But for Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who is meticulous and hands on when it comes to his defensive concepts, it is more about what he sees than anything.

“It’s visual,” River said Tuesday before his team’s first practice since a 121-82 win over the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 24. “Let’s say we were holding teams under 40 percent every night, I would know with my eyes and that’s because they’re missing shots.”

The Clippers have held opponents to 42 percent or worse in the three of the last four games, all wins. Since the start of last season, they are the only undefeated team in the league when they enact such a stingy defense (33-0).

“We are improving. It’s clear,” Rivers said. “I thought throughout the Chicago game everybody was in the right spots. We’ve had unbelievable quarters of defense, so we’re progressing and I’m happy about that. I want us to get there but I know it will take time.”

Rivers isn’t evaluating the time it will take based on any set of numbers. Forward Blake Griffin has a similar approach when determining how well he played. It’s about film and feel, not numbers.

“You can tell throughout the course of the game how we’re flowing defensively and how we’re moving and all that,” Griffin said. “Sometimes statistics are deceiving. There are so many statistics now that I just feel like you can make up a statistic for anything you want and prove your point. It’s like, ‘This guy’s the first guy in his first five games to shoot exactly five free throws.’ You know what I mean? You can mix and match statistics. I’ve never really been a guy who focuses on statistics to feel how I did.”

Visually, Griffin has been a much-improved, but still improving defensive player this season. Rivers went as far as to say he has “no fear” in using Griffin to guard any play in the league from small forward to center. Griffin has guarded everyone from LeBron James to Dwight Howard at times through 15 games, and may be tasked with checking Carmelo Anthony on Wednesday when the Clippers face off with the Knicks at Staples Center.

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“There’s not a situation where I feel uncomfortable defensively,” Griffin said. “I think my team defense at times has been better and has gotten much better, but it’s one of those things that you have to be locked in 100 percent of the time. You can’t let your mind slip. That happened to me in the Chicago game. I forgot a rotation and Boozer got a wide-open dunk off a pick-and-roll. Those are learning points for me.”

And the team is still learning, too. According to Jared Dudley, there may be some psychology behind seeing a number less than 100 on the scoreboard, something the Clippers have only accomplished twice so far.

“The goal at the end of the night is you want to keep a team under 100,” Dudley said. “We know we can score. We know at times our defense is going to have to pick up. Letting teams score 105, 107, and having our offense win is setting us up for failure later on.”

That’s what Rivers has been preaching. He’s said numerous times the team has to get to a point where it can rely on its defense, lean on it when shots aren’t falling.

Rivers would sense when it’s right, regardless of whether or not the opponent was scoring 103 or 93 points per 100 possessions. That’s why it’s less about what the numbers tell him and more about the players and how they react to coaching and their teammates.

A month ago, he was talking about what the uptick in advanced statistics has done to the league. He was asked about the motion cameras being installed in every arena. And while he was candid with his answers then, his most revealing was the way he somewhat dismissed it all.

“We’ll never stop coaching people, no matter how many numbers we have,” Rivers said. “At the end of the day, it’s a human game and there’s human behavior involved… and that’s really important as well.”