DESPITE BIG SCORING NUMBERS CLIPS WINNING WITH DEFENSE

Matt Barnes, Nate Robinson

LOS ANGELES – Scoring the basketball can be fun, but for the Clippers, it seems defending might be even more so.

While they may possess the Western Conference’s top scoring offense and have exceeded the century mark in eight of their first nine games, the Clippers believe they are winning in lopsided fashion because their defense has set the tone.

“The reason we’re having fun right now is because we are defending,” Chris Paul said.

Fun almost always translates to winning. And the Clippers are doing plenty of that at the moment.

Their 7-2 record equals the best nine-game start in franchise history. They have wins over the Heat, the Grizzlies, the Spurs and now the Bulls, with each victory coming by at least seven points.

During their last six games every opponent has shot worse than 46%, something the Clippers were unable to do in any six-game stretch last season. Opponents are shooting 40.9% over the course of L.A.’s five-game win streak.

“We’re better defensively, but we could be a lot better,” Blake Griffin said. “I think that’s the reason for the wins. We said that early on, play defense, the scoring’s going to come.”

A peek at the scoreboard following either of the Clippers’ dominant victories over Chicago or the defending-champion Heat would seem to indicate that. They out-scored two of the East’s better teams, 208-181.

But every member of the roster would likely agree it’s the defense that’s leading to their prolific offensive numbers.   

“It’s amazing because our season is pretty much predicated on defense because we have the offensive firepower,” said Paul, who entered Sunday tied for fourth in the league with 2.33 steals per game.

Another defensive stalwart on the perimeter, Eric Bledsoe, said, “The athletic players we have can get out and run in transition [which starts on the defensive end].”

Against Chicago the athleticism was ever-apparent within the first three minutes when a steal by Griffin led to an alley-oop for him on the other end from Paul and shortly thereafter DeAndre Jordan, who led the team with a season-high seven blocks, duplicated the play, jumping into the passing lane, throwing an outlet to Paul and racing up court for a lob before a leaping Paul landed on the ground.

Prior to the game, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro talked about the importance of making steals and disrupting passing lanes. He said a good number of deflections for the Clippers is anywhere between 25 and 30.

"It’s amazing because our season is pretty much predicated on defense because we have the offensive firepower" - Chris Paul

According to Paul, “The deflections are huge. [Jordan] with the seven blocks. Him and Blake, just their presence, their athleticism. Me and [Bledsoe] always in the passing lane trying to get deflections, Matt Barnes, Willie [Green] everybody. It’s a collective thing.”

In the last seven weeks, since the beginning of training camp, numerous aspects of the defense have improved, but nothing more so than the communication and trust as team defenders.

“I think the trust aspect of it,” Paul responded when asked where he’d seen the most progress so far. “When guys are in mismatches in the post, you know that you’ve got a guy coming to help you.”

They are not all the way there, though. Griffin says the team must improve their defensive rebounding. Despite holding the Bulls to 33.7% shooting, the Clippers gave up a season-high 21 offensive boards. Paul says the team is too often falling for pump fakes. And Del Negro is quick to point out a number of areas that concern him.

“When you’re winning, things that coaches see when they watch the film [are not as obvious], but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Del Negro said. “Our rotations have to be quicker, we have to stop fouling quite as much, we have to load up, it’s just a lot things. But we’re getting there.”