Jared Dudley and Darrell Arthur fight for the rebound.
Jared Dudley and Darrell Arthur fight for the rebound.

DENVER – Doc Rivers thinks the Clippers have a chance to be a top-flight defensive team. He knows they want to be. They just aren’t there yet.

“We’re just not consistent enough,” Rivers said following the Clippers’ 116-115 loss to Denver on Monday. “For us to be an elite team we have to do that. We can be a good team the way we’re playing, but if you want to be elite you have to have a standard defensively. We’re working on it. And I think our guys want to do it, but we have to do a better job of it.”

They are ninth in the NBA overall in defensive efficiency (101.9 points per 100 possessions), but they have slipped recently. In the last seven games opponents have scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions, placing the Clippers among the bottom eight in the league. However, they are 5-2 in that span, in large part because they have been scoring at an even higher clip than usual, scoring at least 109 points, six three better than their season average, in five of those games, including their loss in Denver.

According to Rivers, though, that will not work when things tighten up in the postseason.

“Fortunately, we were good enough offensively to try and win the game but later that’s not going to work,” Rivers said. “You’re not going to just roll it out and outscore anybody. You’re going to have to get stops. You’re going to have to get stops in a row and it has to be consistent.”

The consistency has been the main issue for the Clippers. They have piece together multiple possessions, quarters and even games where they appear to be doing everything Rivers preaches. Against the Jazz on Saturday, they eliminated dribble penetration and in turn kept Utah off the glass. They pulled away by piling up stops in the fourth quarter and converting on the other end. That just doesn’t happen every night.

“We’ve all got to do a better job,” Matt Barnes said. “If someone gets beat we’ve got to help and we’ve got to help the helper. We’ve got to clean our defense up.”

It was evident how much they want to clean it up after losing to Denver on a desperation 3-pointer by Randy Foye. Barnes and Blake Griffin were huddled around a laptop in the locker room less than 20 minutes after the game, watching and re-watching the final shot.

Foye’s shot was not a microcosm of any problems defensively. It came after the Clippers had successfully thwarted Denver’s first two options on the play with 6.2 seconds to go.

“Overall, defense was pretty good,” Rivers said. “He made a tough shot. It happens.”

The problems, really, occurred earlier in the game. When the Clippers failed to box out free throw rebounders and allowed Ty Lawson and others to beat their man of the dribble, get in the paint and effectively have a free-for-all. It was the opposite of how the Clippers played defensively two nights earlier and showed in the broader picture where they have to be better, even when they are among the league’s best defenses in transition and lead the NBA in 3-point defense and boast a premier shot blocker and rim protector in DeAndre Jordan.

“Our numbers say we're better than what I think we are, at times,” Rivers said of the team’s defense overall. “When we play it and do it consistently, we're really good. We have not crossed that threshold yet, where we're consistent and every time you see us play, you say, 'Man. I know they talk and I know their offense is efficient, but they're a heck of a defensive team.' When you look at us now, you say, 'When they play, they can play defense.' We have to cross that threshold to be an elite team.”