Doc Rivers wants Clippers to stay motivated during ‘dog days’ of NBA season

Clippers coach Doc Rivers speaks with forward Kawhi Leonard during a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 24, 2019.
Coach Doc Rivers, talking to Kawhi Leonard, knows the Clippers can’t afford to lose their focus or motivation as they grind through the middle of the NBA season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As they approach the halfway point of their 82-game schedule, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said every NBA team reaches the “dog days” of the season in January.

This is the point in which Rivers and his group have to mentally push forward despite the grinding nature of what they are faced with after playing 38 games.

The Clippers are 26-12, a record with which they are somewhat content, but their defense has been a concern the last few games, leaving the Clippers searching for answers on how to improve it.

“You look at scores around the league [and] you see some crazy scores right now,” Rivers said after practice Wednesday. “And so this is the tough part, because you’re at the halfway point, but you have the whole half of the season left, still got the All-Star break and smart teams try to run through the All-Star break. But this is the stretch where you can drop games — and we’ve done that a couple times — so we gotta start practicing to get better.”


The Clippers are three games away from their halfway mark and still have five weeks left before the week-long All-Star break.

With Derrick Walton Jr.'s contract guaranteed for the rest of the season, the guard will make the full $1.4 million on his one-year deal with the team.

They are in fourth place in the Western Conference, 4½ games behind the first-place Lakers.

“They know what we need to do to get a playoff seed, so that should be the motivation,” Rivers said about pushing through the month of January. “That sounds great. That doesn’t mean that if you have two 12 o’clock games that everyone’s gonna play right, you know? We just gotta get better at it.”

The Clippers played two afternoon games last weekend, a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and a win over the New York Knicks, both sub-.500 teams.

The Clippers surrendered an average of 136 points in those two games, making it clear to them that their defense has to improve.

The Clippers are off for four days — good timing for a defense that allowed 272 points combined to Memphis and New York amid a weekend split.

“Just being mentally tough and just making sure everybody’s on the same page,” Lou Williams said of how to improve. “As far as our bodies go, we just gotta do a good job of taking care of our bodies, managing your minutes, managing the things that you do off the court and be ready to go on game days. We got about four weeks left before we get another break, so we just gotta get through it and be the best we can.”

The Clippers are 6-5 in their last 11 games. In their five losses, they gave up an average of 121.8 points per game, the same number they averaged in their victories.

They will have four days off before playing the Golden State Warriors on Friday night at Staples Center. The hope is that the Clippers can clean up some things and get back to a tough defensive mentality that has been a hallmark of their play the last two seasons.

“We just had a lot of slippage,” Rivers said. “We had a lot of games with a lot of no practice, even no shootarounds, so you’re going to have slippage. We had it.

“We couldn’t pick a better time for the practices to come around.”