The Clippers won’t put too much stock in a lopsided win over a team resting its three best players, even if the opponent was the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who sat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Staples Center on Saturday night.
But if, in their 108-78 win over Cleveland Lite, the Clippers were able to plant a seed from which some better defense can sprout, then plenty of good will have come from it.
“I liked our defensive spirit and our talk,” forward Blake Griffin said. “Even if we didn’t get a stop, I thought our talk was great. I could hear who the low-man was every time. Guys were running guys off the corner three, running the right guys off the line. The next guy was there. Our trust was high.”
This was in stark contrast to the previous game’s assessment by point guard Chris Paul who, after a 129-114 loss in Denver last Thursday, said, “Our defense kind of sucks right now.”
An inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent defense has been the primary culprit in funk in which the Clippers lost eight of 14 games after the All-Star break.
Even with Saturday’s Cavaliers clampdown, the Clippers entered Monday having allowed 110.1 points per 100 possessions in those 14 games, the seventh-worst defensive efficiency rating in the league.
But their communication and effort improved against Cleveland, and the Clippers hoped to carry that momentum into the homestretch of the season.
“Offense will come and go, but defense is something that you hang your hat on, that is where you build your trust as a team,” Paul said. “If we can learn to play defense nightly, we always give ourselves a chance.”
Carmelo Anthony’s presence in Staples Center on Monday night rekindled speculation of a possible offseason trade of the Knicks star to the Clippers. The teams held talks before February’s trade deadline, but according to reports, no package was formally presented to Anthony, who has a no-trade clause.
But Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he would not be evaluating Anthony in his dual role of president of basketball operations.
“No, I watch as a coach,” Rivers said.
Paul, the Clippers star, is one of Anthony’s best friends, and former Knicks coach Mike Woodson is Rivers’ assistant. Anthony also has an offseason home in Los Angeles and professed his affection for Southern California to New York reporters after Monday’s shootaround. But Rivers insists a deal was never close.
“You always want to make a move to improve your team, but as I’ve said thousand times, there was really no good offer out there,” Rivers said. “I read all the speculation, but if some of those trades that you guys were all proposing were true, we would have done all of them. … Unfortunately, both teams didn’t agree on those trades, and that was the issue.”
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