The Clippers must play harder. Blake Griffin should take fewer jump shots. Someone, anyone, needs to step up at small forward.
Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.
With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.
“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?’”
A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.
The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.
“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,’” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”
Some of the Clippers’ problems are more easily quantifiable. They rank last in the NBA in rebounding (33.8 per game), 26th in three-point defense (39.8%) and 25th in points allowed (104.2 per game).
“In my opinion, offense will never be the problem with the Clippers,” Miller said. “It’s can they stop you, can they give you multiple efforts on plays? Reading between the lines of Doc’s comments, he’s not seeing those multiple efforts.”
Point guard Chris Paul said the Clippers aren’t getting the steals that usually generate their Lob City attack.
The Clippers also haven’t gotten much out of the small forward spot besides a surprising 12-point outburst from Reggie Bullock against Utah. Starter Matt Barnes is averaging 6.4 points and reserve Chris Douglas-Roberts has made one of 11 shots, missing all six three-pointers.
Griffin acknowledged taking too many mid-range jumpers, saying he wanted to spend more time closer to the basket. He’s taken nearly as many shots between 16 feet and the three-point line (39) as he has within 10 feet of the basket (43). Even more troubling to him, he took only one free throw against the Warriors.
“I don’t think I should ever go through a game where I only shoot one free throw, and it has nothing to do with the officiating,” Griffin said. “It has to do with me personally attacking” the basket.
One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.
“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”
Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.
“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,’” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”