They are just exhibitions. The Clippers have played only four games. Chris Paul has a broken finger. Players are learning each other’s tendencies. Body clocks were still adjusting to China.
There were plenty of excuses to be made, but none seemed to fully explain the Clippers’ latest lackadaisical showing Wednesday during a 113-71 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.
Paul displayed his usual intensity after a one-game absence caused by a broken index finger, something few of his teammates could match as the Clippers scored only 20 points in the second half.
“I’ve got to try to put us in a position to win and go out and compete,” Paul told reporters after his team suffered a third consecutive defeat. “I think for us, still learning our system, but we’re a no-excuse team.”
The Clippers were sloppy on both ends of the court, particularly during a third quarter in which they were outscored, 29-8. A fan made a halfcourt shot after the quarter, meaning the Clippers had outscored him by only five points over the previous 12 minutes.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s head shake from his courtside seat with his team trailing by 33 points and 4 1/2 minutes left in the game said it all.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his team couldn’t carry over a start that was torrid compared to the way it played in the second half.
“We came out the first four minutes, executed, played pretty well,” Rivers said, “but then we missed layups and wide-open shots and the frustration settled in.”
The Clippers (1-3) had a similarly poor showing in exhibitions last season and it didn’t mean much by May. However, it seemed fair to expect a little more vitality in these games considering the team has nine new players. It hasn’t happened.
Paul finished with 17 points on six-for-10 shooting while playing with his broken finger taped, but he made an uncharacteristic five turnovers to go with six assists.
“It’s seen better days,” Paul said of his finger. “Out there trying to play through it.”
Clippers forward Blake Griffin had 14 points and 14 rebounds but also struggled to take care of the ball, committing five of his team’s 22 turnovers.
No other Clipper scored in double figures and the bench continued to resemble a hodgepodge of mismatched parts. Paul Pierce missed all five of his shots and picked up one of his team’s two flagrant fouls. Lance Stephenson had two points on one-for-four shooting. Josh Smith missed five of eight free throws.
Clippers backup guard Austin Rivers returned after missing the previous game because of surgery to re-implant five teeth knocked out by a wayward elbow, but he also had a negligible impact with four points, one assist and one steal in 18 minutes.
The Clippers have said they want to be a top defensive team but hardly looked it in allowing six Hornets to reach double figures in scoring. Jeremy Lin scored Charlotte’s first 10 points on the way to 13 and Al Jefferson finished with 17.
The Clippers flew back to Los Angeles after the game and will have nearly a week to regroup before playing Golden State on Tuesday at Staples Center. Maybe a game against the defending NBA champions, who also happen to be the Clippers’ archrivals, is what’s needed to show a little life.
Bolch reported from Los Angeles.