Third-quarter slumps are key to Clippers' woes

As the 1-6 Clippers search for ways to win some more games, the team seems to agree on one key problem: The third quarter.

Too often the Clippers have played well enough to win in the first half only to slump in the third quarter and see the game get away.

Against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, for instance, the Clippers led by as many as 18 points in the first half only to see the Jazz tie the game by the end of regulation. The Clippers did battle through two overtimes but still lost, 109-107.

In the game before that, the Clippers led the Denver Nuggets at halftime, 54-53, and then were outscored in the third quarter, 29-17, on their way to a 111-104 loss to Denver.

Now the Clippers face the unbeaten Hornets in New Orleans on Tuesday, and "we have to get our energy up in the third quarter," first-year Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said Monday after a two-hour practice at their Playa Vista training facility.

When the Clippers return to the court after halftime, they are frequently displaying "not enough energy" and taking "too many quick shots," Del Negro said after the Clippers ended a two-hour practice.

"We've got to do a much better job with that — putting ourselves behind in the third quarters," he said.

Asked why the team has struggled in the third quarter when they have played so well earlier, center Chris Kaman replied, "It's a good question."

"I think part of it is teams adjust to us" after huddling at halftime, he said. "We seem to do a good job in the first half of hurting them inside, and they seem to adjust to that . . . and we just don't react to their adjustments."

As for New Orleans, the Clippers agreed their main concern will be Hornets point guard Chris Paul, a three-time All-Star who Monday was named the NBA's Western Conference player of the week.

Paul has led the Hornets to their 6-0 record, their best start in franchise history, and last week averaged 17.3 points and 11 assists.

"You have to control his penetration," Del Negro said. Hornets forward "David West is a handful, but it starts and ends with Chris. They've got shooters, they've got post-up guys, they're physical up front and we've got to be very sharp."

Gordon injury

Guard Eric Gordon, who led the Clippers' late charge against Utah but had to leave the game in overtime with a sore left shoulder, remained questionable for Tuesday's game in New Orleans.

Gordon did not practice Monday and was "still very sore," Del Negro said. "We'll monitor that, see how he feels tomorrow.

"Luckily it's nothing major, just a bone bruise," Del Negro said. Gordon was "day to day, [he'll] see how his pain is and see what he can play with."

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