When this season began, “one band, one sound” became something of a Clippers motto.
On Sunday night, a common message emerged from players and coaches following a 114-104 loss in Denver: The Clippers’ most inconsistent stretch of this season must end, and soon.
“We’ve had too many ‘my bads’ and breakdowns; it’s not like us,” guard Landry Shamet said. “It’s not like what we were doing early in the year. But it’s a process, man. It’s a new team. It’s not going to be perfect overnight.
“We just have to keep trusting it. Keep trusting it. Keep working with each other, working hard and hopefully it’ll all come together.”
At 27-13, the Clippers remain in the upper half of the Western Conference standings, with offensive and defensive ratings that rank in the NBA’s top seven, something only Boston, Milwaukee and the Lakers can match. Multiple players Sunday joined coach Doc Rivers in insisting the team is on the same page, if out of rhythm.
“None of us in there are panicking or anything like that,” Rivers said.
Said guard Patrick Beverley, a vocal locker-room presence: “The trust is there. It’s just new voices, new bodies. It’s going to take time. I know we keep saying that, but again, things like this take time. I think last year we made our run right after All-Star [break]. So you go through these spells. But at the end of the day, we’re what, 27-13? It’s not too shabby.”
The Clippers went 13-2 from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13, a stretch that overlapped with Paul George’s return following offseason shoulder surgery. They are 7-6 since — ranking fifth in offensive rating but 17th in defense in that span — and have shown they have yet to fully mesh. Miscommunication often is cited as a persistent source of much-needed improvement.
“It’s still a thing that we’re going to have to figure out still, something that we’re going to have to get a feel for one another,” center Montrezl Harrell said.
It has led to breakdowns on a fundamental level, with center Ivica Zubac saying there has not been enough talk about where helping defenders, or opponents’ screens, are coming from.
“We all need to take the challenge defensively about matchups,” guard Rodney McGruder said. “I think that’s first and foremost.”
Against the Nuggets, the Clippers were without George, last season’s league leader in steals and a four-time member of the all-defensive team, for a second consecutive game as he deals with a strained left hamstring. His 6-foot-9 length was missed as Denver drove into the lane and often kicked passes out for open three-pointers. The Nuggets made 11 of 25 shots from behind the arc, even though they had struggled with their accuracy in that area for nearly two weeks.
Still, playing short-handed is not a new development. The Clippers ranked 10th in defensive rating and fifth in defensive field-goal percentage during the season’s first 11 games despite missing George and playing one of the toughest schedules.
“I don’t think that can be our excuse, missing players,” Zubac said. “We’re a deep team. Everyone can play. That cannot be our excuse. I just think we’ve got to trust each other and whoever is on the floor has to play hard, no matter what.”
What has kept the Clippers from returning to their early season form?
“Just probably in the middle of the season. I’m not sure,” forward Kawhi Leonard said. “We played pretty consistent for three quarters. We’ve got to put all four together. If we do that, we’ll win a ballgame.”
The Clippers have joined other contenders in considering their options for roster upgrades as the Feb. 6 trade deadline approaches, but in the interim, players spoke of an urge to find solutions in-house. Shamet directed criticism at himself, saying he needed to “be better, be more physical, play harder form the jump.”
And as a team?
“Just playing harder,” Shamet said. “Being who we were, who we are and who we’re capable of being. I think that’s a pretty good start.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570 AM
Update: The Cavaliers will play the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back after playing the Lakers on Monday. The backcourt of second-year guard Collin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland scores nearly 31 points per game this season. Cleveland began its road trip 2-0 entering the Lakers matchup, including a 111-103 victory in Denver on Saturday.