Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 102-91 loss to Portland
The analytics, standard statistics and old-school eye test are all saying the same thing: By any measure, the Clippers aren’t cutting it in the season’s early going.
A one-game trip to face a team that had lost seven consecutive games was supposed to accelerate the Clippers’ road to recovery but only exacerbated their issues.
Here are five takeaways from the Clippers’ 102-91 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night at Moda Center that gave the Clippers a sixth defeat in their last eight games:
1. Are the Clippers really a .500 team? Twelve games into the season, their record says they are. It’s not anywhere close to where a team with championship aspirations wanted to be at this point.
“It’s not something we’re just ‘whatever’ about it, moving on,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “But we’ve got to make changes. We’ve got to have a sense of urgency to do that now, but at the same time, no one’s crumbling.”
Said Clippers point guard Chris Paul: “We always talk about fighting for playoff seeds, and we wanted to get off to a better start, but we can still get this thing right.”
2. Defense has been the biggest problem late in games. There’s been lots of focus on the Clippers’ offensive shortcomings, and with good reason. They missed eight of their final 10 shots and committed two turnovers in the final 4 1/2 minutes against Golden State and finished the game against Portland missing four of their last six shots with two turnovers.
But the Clippers’ defense has been even worse. The Warriors made six of their last seven shots to wipe out a 10-point deficit, and the Trail Blazers made three of five shots to extend a three-point lead. “We start taking the ball out of the net a lot of times in the fourth quarter, and we’re a team that likes to play up and down,” Paul said. “So it gets tough having to run sets and different things like that down the stretch.”
3. They’re no longer chairmen of the boards. The Clippers have been outrebounded in 10 of 12 games, and the other two were ties. The team ranks 27th in the NBA in rebounding and has been outrebounded by an average of 5.5 per game. Portland snagged 13 more rebounds than the Clippers, largely a function of the Trail Blazers’ 17 offensive rebounds.
“I thought we had a chance early on to get up big, and they just kept getting second shots and I thought it really hurt us,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s big. We’ve got to figure it out because it’s not just tonight, it’s been every night.”
Part of the problem is that the Clippers don’t have anyone besides DeAndre Jordan or Griffin averaging more than 4.1 rebounds per game.
4. Easing into games against supposedly lesser teams is a strategy for failure. The Clippers struggled early against the Detroit Pistons before needing a massive comeback to win and were listless for stretches against the Trail Blazers, failing to put them away.
“To me, it comes down to sense of urgency every night,” Rivers said. “We played Golden State [Thursday] night, and the urgency we had, you could visually see it. And we start out [Friday] and I think we think because people think we’re good or whatever, we kind of show up and try to get into the game.
“On the road, once you get a team going, you may not get into the game, and even if you do, they’re already triggered and I think that’s been our recurring thing.”
Said Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick: “I don’t know that there’s a huge level of concern long-term, but certainly we need to play with more of a sense of urgency. And I think, again, we’re playing in spurts, whereas a team like the Warriors, which is the team that we say we want to get to, they play for 48 minutes.”
5. Even the silver lining is ringed by dark clouds. The Cleveland Cavaliers started last season with a worse record and reached the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers were 5-7 at this point before winning eight consecutive games and finishing with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Of course, Cleveland also had LeBron James, who won’t be taking his talents to Venice Beach any time soon.
The Clippers know any meaningful change starts with their stars. “The guys that have been here — J.J., C.P., me, D.J., Jamal [Crawford] — we’ve got to be better,” Griffin said. “We’ve got to show everybody the way a little bit. Not that they don’t know how to play, but just our style and the way we deal with things, we’ve got to find it.”
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