Chris Paul: "We've got to want to stop teams just as much as we want to score."
ORLANDO, Fla. — It felt like the Clippers had hit the road even before leaving Staples Center on Monday night, with large pockets of Chicago Bulls fans providing all the decibels in the final moments of a runaway victory.
"It was loud in there and loud in the wrong way," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said after his team's 105-89 loss.
Plenty of voices have been difficult to hear for the Clippers in the season's early going. Many have come from inside their own locker room.
The consensus among the Clippers is that their team is nowhere near where it wants to be as it embarks on a seven-game, 12-day trip starting Wednesday against the Orlando Magic.
The Clippers, widely considered as a title contender before the season, are 5-4 despite playing every game in California, including eight at Staples Center. They have held — and lost — double-digit leads in eight of nine games and three of four losses.
Their offense hasn't resembled the run-and-fun group of last season, largely because their defense has been unable to consistently generate the stops that trigger their Lob City attack.
The only thing tossed around late Monday night was the dreaded "T" word, never a good sign so early in a season.
"I thought our trust was broken today offensively," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we all tried to do it individually where there's no ball movement, the ball is in one spot."
Point guard Chris Paul placed the onus on himself, saying he needed to find the proper balance between being aggressive and getting his teammates more involved. Four of the five Clippers starters are averaging fewer points than last season, and Griffin, the only exception, is shooting 47.9%, down from 52.8% last season.
Griffin said the offensive problems against the Bulls resulted from forcing plays that weren't there.
"I don't think it was like a selfish thing or 'I want shots' or this or that," said Griffin, who is averaging a team-high 23.1 points. "I think we were just searching and instead of relying on the offense, I thought we just searched a little bit too hard."
It hasn't helped that the Clippers' newcomers have failed to make the expected impact, with backup point guard Jordan Farmar struggling to find a rhythm and forward-center Spencer Hawes and swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts slowed by injuries.
The Clippers had hoped that the continuity of having all five regular starters back would allow them to pick up where they left off from the end of last season, when they were an elite team defensively. Instead, they've been as disjointed as five players randomly selected for a shirts-and-skins game at the YMCA.
They are giving up 102.7 points a game — 21st in the league — in part because of excessive dribble penetration that has put their defensive rotations out of whack. Perhaps more troubling, the Clippers are allowing opponents to make 36.5% of their three-pointers (ranking 20th in the NBA) after leading the league in that category last season.
"What you do most of the time in this league when you can't make a shot or the ball is not going through the net," Paul said, "you rely on your defense and that's what type of team we were last year and we've got to find that team. We've got to be hungry on defense. We've got to want to stop teams just as much as we want to score."
Their desire will be tested on a trip that includes three sets of back-to-back games, beginning with Orlando on Wednesday followed by Miami on Thursday. Then comes games against Memphis on Sunday and Charlotte on Monday before the Clippers play at Detroit on Nov. 26 and conclude the trip with games against Houston on Nov. 28 and Utah on Nov. 29.
This is one instance in which the Clippers don't want to repeat last season, when they opened their first extended trip with losses at Orlando and Miami.
Rivers knows things go one of two ways when a team goes on the road.
"It is an opportunity to find yourself," Rivers said. "You can also lose yourself."