The Denver Nuggets lost their first three games to begin the NBA’s 2012-13 season and were sixth in the Western Conference by mid-January.
From that point until the regular-season’s end, they went 33-7 to finish with the West’s second-best record.
Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari, a member of that Denver team, brought up the six-year-old story late Thursday night following a 125-87 loss in San Antonio, believing it explained why he’s approaching a difficult stretch for the Clippers with patience, not panic.
“We have a good record now, we‘re still one of the best teams in the league, and we haven’t proved anything to anybody or to us,” Gallinari said. “It’s a long way.”
The Clippers have lost five of their last seven games and, at 17-11, are tied with the Lakers for the fourth-best winning percentage in the Western Conference entering Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The blowout loss Thursday was one Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could see coming because of the schedule. It was the Clippers’ third game in four nights and they haven’t played consecutive games in the same arena since Nov. 15.
No one inside the Clippers’ locker room disputed that their energy never quite matched that of San Antonio.
“It’s a long season, and you’ll never see me overreact, I just won’t,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve been in this too long. I’ll let all you guys do that. I don’t. … We’re just going to keep working on what we’ve been working on and get better at it.
“It doesn’t affect my morale. You just keep fighting and keep going. I look at our record, I look at the schedule, I put things in perspective, and I keep moving on.”
They made clear that the approach of patience and perspective doesn’t mean they are also ignorant of issues that have become hallmarks during this choppy stretch. It starts, Rivers said, with defense.
Opponents aren’t suddenly seeing a rash of open looks. The team’s average of contested shots has dipped, but only slightly. Opponents are also shooting fewer layups and close-range shots near the basket. A change has come farther away from the rim.
Opponents in December are shooting better than the Clippers’ season averages from the left and right corners and on shots from the wing to the top of the three-point arc. They aren’t attempting many more looks but have made the Clippers pay when they get them.
When opponents score, it sets off a chain reaction.
“When you’re giving up points and taking the ball out [of bounds] you don’t have pace” offensively, Rivers said. “It’s hard to establish.”
The reserves also aren’t making the impact they used to.
The returns of guard Lou Williams from a hamstring injury and forward Luc Mbah a Moute from knee soreness remain uncertain. Since scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds Dec. 2 in Dallas, forward Montrezl Harrell is averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. He played 15 minutes against San Antonio, his fewest in 20 games. Guard Patrick Beverley hasn’t exceeded his season-average shooting percentage (34%) in four games.
Mike Scott, after making 50% of his three-point attempts during an 11-game stretch that lasted through Nov. 20, has shot 24.1% on threes in the 11 games since.
Frustrated though he is, Scott also preached patience. It helped him get out of a poor-shooting stretch to begin the season and he believes it can help this time, too.
“Just continue to get shots, go to practice on off days and continue to shoot with confidence,” he said. “Every player goes through slumps. You don’t want to do it but you’ve just got to find a way to get out of it.”
VS. OKLAHOMA CITY
When: 6 p.m. PST, Saturday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.
Update: It’s another meeting between Thunder star Russell Westbrook and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, whose feud goes back five years. In October, they had to be separated after Beverley collided with Westbrook’s knee while diving for a loose ball. They likely won’t play against one another as often as they did in their first meeting this season, however, because Beverley has since moved out of the starting rotation.