THREE-POINT DEFENSE SHOWING SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT

While it may have been at the expense of giving up some early points in the paint, the Clippers arguably defended the 3-point shot better than they have all season in Sunday’s blowout victory over the Phoenix Suns.

“Our 3-point defense hasn’t been great all season, but [Sunday] we weren’t too bad,” point guard Chris Paul said. “I think we were on a string. When they skipped it out of double teams and stuff, we rotated and just kept moving all night.”

They held Phoenix to 3-for-17 (17.6%) on the game and did not allow a make until Sebastian Telfair knocked one down with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter.

Slowing down the Suns, who had made nearly 40% of their 3-pointers as a team over the previous week, was imperative for the Clippers heading into Sunday’s game. “You’ve got to take their airspace away, you’ve got to make them feel the pressure and make them put it on the floor, and recognized player tendencies as well,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said pregame outside of the locker room in Phoenix. “We stress a lot of those things. Guys are doing a better job of it but we’ve got to be more consistent.”

Defending the perimeter has been a problem at times throughout the season. The Clippers have given up at least eight makes from 3-point range 12 times in the first 27 games. The worst percentage among those was a 34.8% clip from the Spurs on Nov. 7. But recently, there have been signs of improvement, according to Del Negro.

“We talk about it a lot, but it takes time,” Del Negro said after Monday’s practice, referring to the defensive rotations. “It takes trust. We’ve been doing a better job there with our rotations and things and that’s great to see.”

Over the last five games, the work and emphasis appears to be paying off. The Clippers have allowed opponents to shoot just 27.3% from distance in that span (third best in the league). Phoenix missed its first eight 3-point attempts, and only one of those went uncontested.

On one play, Matt Barnes closed out hard on Jared Dudley, who had made 10 of his last 24, to get a hand in his face. Dudley missed, Barnes leaked out, and Lamar Odom snared the rebound and made a long outlet for a Barnes dunk. Later in the second quarter, Blake Griffin rotated to Shannon Brown as his primary defender helped in the corner. Griffin forced an air ball from the left wing.

That’s what we have to do,” Del Negro said after Monday’s practice when asked about playing on a “string” as Paul suggested. It’s a consistency thing and we’ve got to continually stay together and work on it.”

HILL AND BILLUPS UPDATE

Del Negro briefly talked about the status of Grant Hill (knee) and Chauncey Billups (foot) after Monday’s practice.

“I get a report almost daily [from the medical staff],” Del Negro said. “Now it’s just a matter of them getting into some weight-baring things and  seeing how their bodies react and then going from there.

“They’re both starting to do a little bit more than they’ve been and we’re going to see how they progress from there.”