On the night the locals came to show respect for what Chris Paul has done for the Hornets and the city of New Orleans, the Clippers spent much of their energy trying to dispel rumors that there is tension inside the locker room because Coach Vinny Del Negro has lost the team.
After a humiliating 97-90 loss to the Hornets on Thursday night, the players all claimed they supported Del Negro despite the team’s losing all three games on this back-to-back-to-back trip that has produced more questions than answers.
“We’re still behind him,” Blake Griffin said after he scored 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and was roughed up by Jason Smith, who was ejected from the game after he committed a flagrant foul 2 on the Clippers All-Star.
“It’s not that. It’s us. It’s on me. I’ve got to find a way and we’ve got to find a way to put the fun back in it, the fun we had the first how many games and we were just going out and playing.”
There have been reports that Del Negro’s job might be in jeopardy if the Clippers don’t turn things around.
They are 11-14 since Chauncey Billups suffered a season-ending left Achilles’ tendon injury.
“Coaches come and go in this league,” Kenyon Martin said. “We all know players make this league. But until we go out and play, we can’t always point the finger at the coach. That ain’t always the issue.”
Del Negro acknowledged that he’s as frustrated as the players.
He said he’s not putting “credence” into “sources” who have his job on the line or say the players aren’t following him anymore.
“When you’re losing games, everyone jumps on you. If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t do the job,” Del Negro said. “That’s part of it. You have to win games. That’s what you’re measured on and we haven’t played as well as I would like or anybody.”
Many of the players said Del Negro has been as tough on Griffin and Paul as the other players.
Last week Del Negro chastised Griffin, yelling at him in front of his teammates for his poor defense and attitude.
“I’m probably harder on Chris and Blake than anybody,” Del Negro said. “They should be held to a different standard because of the level of players they are. So that’s where people get into all these sources. It’s just ridiculous.
“The best players can take coaching because they want to learn. They want to get better. And Blake and Chris, obviously, have shouldered a lot of the load for this team all year, so that’s why when I hear those things, it’s funny to me because it’s just not accurate.”
There have been complaints about playing time and the rotation.
“If they play hard, if they play the right way and they give us a chance to win games, they’ll be out there,” Del Negro said. “And if they don’t, they won’t. That’s part of the deal.”
With their recent slide, the Clippers are the sixth-seeded team in the Western Conference, tied with the Denver Nuggets.
But they are only half a game ahead of the Houston Rockets and one game ahead of the ninth-seeded Utah Jazz.
“I hope we can turn this around,” center DeAndre Jordan said, “or we’ll be home on April 25th and out of the playoffs.”