The acquisition of Chris Paul, combined with the development of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, has set the bar high for the L.A. Clippers this season. Many writers, including myself, are on record as saying this team will win the Pacific Division in 2012.
The Clippers looked great in two preseason wins against the Lakers and opened the regular season with an impressive victory at Golden State.
On Wednesday night, however, the Clippers hit their first roadblock of the year. The San Antonio Spurs handed Vinny Del Negro’s team a quick reality check with a 105-90 victory that exposed some potential weaknesses for the Clippers this season.
While I do think it’s way too early to panic over one loss—especially to such a quality team like San Antonio—every team must act quickly in correcting their mistakes in this shortened season.
Here are five things the Clippers must improve on as a team if they want to win a division title.
The Clippers were out-rebounded by Golden State on opening night and were again manhandled on the boards by the Spurs on Wednesday by a margin of 43-30.
This is especially concerning, given the fact that the 6’10” Blake Griffin and 6’11” DeAndre Jordan were repeatedly out-hustled to the ball by the 6’7” DeJuan Blair and 6’7” Kawhi Leonard.
One thing about rebounding—the tallest player doesn’t always automatically get it. Just ask Charles Barkley or Dennis Rodman. It’s all about boxing out and giving effort.
Hopefully, coach Del Negro will start to emphasize this in practice.
DeAndre Jordan has 11 blocks through the first two games, but don’t let that statistic fool you.
What I saw on Wednesday was Spurs point guard Tony Parker repeatedly getting to the basket off the dribble. The presence of Griffin and Jordan didn’t seem to bother Parker much, as he drove to the hole with regularity.
An undersized DeJuan Blair also created problems inside all game long. What Blair lacked in height, he made up in toughness and tenacity on his way to a 20-point night, finishing 10-of-15 from the field.
The Spurs shot 56 percent from the field—the result of many easy looks around the basket.
Griffin and Jordan will not be able to get by on their size and talent alone—especially on defense. I would like to see some more hustle and toughness from these two guys. Foul someone hard. Make a statement.
Chris Paul missed a couple of basic layups in the first quarter vs. the Spurs. Chauncey Billups also blew an opportunity from point-blank range, and Griffin was left shaking his head after failing to convert an open layup in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers might be able to get away with that when facing teams like Minnesota and Sacramento, but against quality teams like the Spurs, L.A. must take advantage of every easy opportunity they can get.
I’m not too concerned about this being a problem in the long run—it’s more likely a fluke game than a possible trend. Still, it cost the Clippers in this one and it’s worth keeping an eye on the rest of the way.
It's tough to imagine using the word "stagnant" when referring to a team led by Chris Paul, but that's the one word that jumped out at me when watching the Clippers play offense on Wednesday.
Paul did have nine assists, but the rest of the team had just eight combined.
There was a lot of standing around on offense. On many possessions, the play was to get the ball to Griffin and just watch him go to the basket. Not enough ball movement. Too much one-on-one play. There doesn't seem to be a rhythm to the offense.
A lot of credit has to go to San Antonio's team defense and I'm sure there will be more fluidity to the offense as the team continues to play together—but with each game more meaningful than usual with the shortened season, the Clippers will have to find their groove fast.
The 35-year-old starting shooting guard is just 8-of-24 from the field over the first two games—but that’s not what worries me.
It seems like Billups is starting to lose a step on defense. He’s had trouble keeping quicker guards in front of him, Monta Ellis and Tony Parker in particular.
Billups hasn’t been able to create plays for his teammates and seems slightly out of place playing at shooting guard instead of at the point.
Something tells me we’ll be seeing more of Mo Williams moving forward and less of Chauncey Billups.