Practice Notes: Portland On Deck, Team Meeting Results, Defensive Focus

Rowan Kavner

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The Clippers’ schedule doesn’t get any easier.

After a loss to the Warriors, the Clippers now get set to face the Blazers, Spurs, Suns and Bulls in four home matchups, beginning Saturday afternoon against a Portland team averaging 8.6 more points than its opponents per game.

There may not be a player who understands the Blazers’ firepower better than Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who played in Portland during the 2011-12 season.

“Portland’s tough,” Crawford said. “I watched them play last night against Dallas, obviously playing there knowing some of the players like LaMarcus (Aldridge), those guys are special. Damian Lillard’s kind of come into his own, and I think he’s finding his rhythm on the season. So it won’t be easy. It doesn’t get any easier, but sometimes you’ve got to go through the rain to get to the rainbow.”

Defense will bring a team together. Until we do that, we’ll still have good offensive nights and still win some games, but we won’t be an elite team.- Doc Rivers
Speaking of going through rain, if the first handful of games of the season are any indication, the shots might be raining from deep Saturday.

The Blazers and Clippers ranked second and third, respectively, in 3-point attempts this season. Both teams also head into the game at 3-2 through five games.

Guard Chris Paul referenced Blazers All-Stars Aldridge and Lillard, but he also has a lot of respect for another Blazers player who may not get all the recognition he deserves.

“They’ve got a lot of shooters,” Paul said. “They shoot a lot of 3s. They move the ball really well. I think Nicolas Batum is one of the most underappreciated players in the entire league. It’ll be another good test for us.”

Both teams have a different edge defensively heading into Saturday’s game. The Clippers are forcing 19 turnovers per game, while the Blazers are only forcing 12. But the Blazers’ opponents are only shooting 40 percent, while the Clippers are allowing teams to shoot 50 percent field from the field.

Clippers forward Blake Griffin said his goal will be to get in Aldridge’s “air space” to make it tougher on the Blazers’ leading scorer.

“They’re another team that has had a lot of success in the West,” Griffin said. “It seems like they know their system. We have to rely on our defensive system.”

The Clippers could get a boost Saturday with the return of Glen Davis. Head coach Doc Rivers said the forward is on track to play for the first time this year.

Team Meeting

Rivers hasn’t minced words when describing his lack of belief in team meetings, one of which the Clippers players held after the loss to the Warriors.

“I’m just not a big fan of them,” Rivers said. “There are some that help, but overall, when I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next.’ At the end of the day, do you need a meeting to tell the truth?

“They all know it. We all know we didn’t play well and didn’t compete. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that. That’s just me.”

Crawford didn’t want to get into the specifics of the meeting, other than saying the message was about getting on the same page as a unit and not playing an individual game. He said it can be concerning to need a team meeting five games into the season, but that sometimes it’s needed.

The Clippers players said they won’t know whether or not the meeting worked until subsequent games.

“There were some good things said, for sure,” Griffin said. “The only way to know if it was productive is to see the result of it, so like I said, there were good things said and I think we made some ground. But at the same time, talk is talk. I’d rather be a team that’s more about it when we step on the court than about it when we’re talking about it, sitting in the bus, sitting in the locker room, whatever it is.”

Getting Defensive

Rivers made clear which end of the court is more of a concern to him through five games.

“Defense will bring a team together,” Rivers said. “Until we do that, we’ll still have good offensive nights and still win some games, but we won’t be an elite team.”

The Clippers’ opponents’ 50 percent field goal percentage isn’t sitting well with anyone. Rivers was particularly frustrated at an effort level he described as weak against the Warriors.

On the positive side, the Clippers are forcing almost eight more turnovers a game than they’re making. But they’re allowing opponents to shoot a high percentage, average 104.2 points per game and outrebound them by 10 boards a game.

“Offense makes teams feel good, but the defense is what brings teams together,” Rivers said. “When you start fighting on defense, the ball starts moving. That’s a fact. Because if you start becoming an effort defensive team, you get the ball and someone takes a bad shot and doesn’t move the ball on offense, they’re pissed because they have to go back and do that defense again.”

The majority of Clippers players acknowledge the struggles but believe they need to be patient in righting the ship. They trust with the talent they have and the coaching they have the results will start to turn in their favor.

“We’re lucky enough to have an amazing coaching staff, to have an amazing leader in Doc who’s been through just about everything that you can be through,” Paul said. “So I think we’ll be fine.”