CLIPPERS DEFENSE SHOWING POSITIVE SIGNS

Matt Barnes, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin
The Clippers defense has held its last three opponents to less than 43% shooting.

PLAYA VISTA – Throughout the first week and a half of the season, numerous Clippers players have said they know their team is capable of scoring, but perhaps the key to the season will be defending on a consistent basis.

After allowing 222 points combined in consecutive home losses, the Clippers have surrendered 83.3 points per game during their three-game winning streak and held all three opponents to less than 43% from the field.

It is the first time since a three-game stretch in January 2011 that the team has held three consecutive opponents to such a low shooting clip.

By no means are the Clippers where they want to be yet on the defensive end of the floor, but according to Chris Paul, who leads the team in steals with 14 in seven games, things are getting better.

“I think communication [is getting better],” Paul said. “Teams are still getting open shots when we don’t want them to, but we’re talking a lot better and talking earlier. There are a lot of great players in this league and if you don’t communicate early there’s no way to defend really good players.”

Their improved communication will be tested Wednesday with the Heat in town. Miami leads the league in scoring offense, boasts two of the league’s most dynamic wing players, and has quickly built continuity with 3-point ace Ray Allen.

After Tuesday’s practice, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said the Heat are “champions for a reason.”

“With LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade and Chris [Bosh] you’ve got three of the top players and everyone else feeds off that,” Del Negro said. “Then they add Ray [Allen] and Rashard [Lewis] and guys that know how to play with [Shane] Battier and [Mike] Miller, so they’re deep and they’re champions for a reason. There’s not anything they haven’t seen. ”

Del Negro reiterated Tuesday that the biggest thing so far for the Clippers defensively is the group is making a commitment to it. “Everyone’s buying into what we’re doing, getting a little bit more comfortable with things. It’s just time together and going to the process in it.

From top to bottom, the Clippers have the pieces to be an elite defensive team with, among others, DeAndre Jordan anchoring the backline, Paul and Eric Bledsoe roaming the perimeter, Matt Barnes as a potential wing stopper and Blake Griffin as an athletic and versatile forward. On Monday Del Negro said Griffin has the potential to guard “anybody because he’s so athletic.”

Jamal Crawford, who is part of a second unit that consists of four defensive-oriented players in Barnes, Bledsoe, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf, stressed that the defensive intensity from both the starters and the reserves sets the tone for everything else.

“If you come out and compete defensively you get out there and get steals and get easy baskets,” Crawford said. “When you do that, the crowd gets into it and you get more energy, so I definitely think we can rest our hat on that.”