5 Critical Adjustments for L.A. Clippers to Be Serious Contenders
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The Los Angeles Clippers are off to a great start so far this season.
They've racked up impressive wins against playoff competition and shockingly avoided being the first team in Los Angeles to fire their head coach. (What do you think Vegas would have had those odds at a month ago?)
But that doesn't mean that the Clips should just settle in at this level. They can ratchet their game up a notch, and they must do so if they're serious about contending for a title in 2013.
Here are five adjustments that the team must make going forward.
You know how the mantra goes: Defense Wins Championships.
It might be boring, but it's true. You have to go all the way back to the 2001 Lakers—the original "flip-the-switch" team—to find an NBA champion that wasn't ranked in the top nine in defensive efficiency.
The Clippers ranked just 18th in the league in defensive efficiency each of the past two seasons, and heading into Sunday's action they were 17th so far this year.
That ranking will obviously go up after Sunday afternoon's stifling of the Hawks, but the Clippers need to be able to consistently lock down opponents at the defensive end as past champions have.
No team with a front line as athletic as the Clippers should be lacking in the rebounding department, but that's been an issue for the Clips so far this season.
Neither Blake Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan is averaging even nine boards a game, a travesty for two guys who should be among the top 20 rebounders in the NBA year after year.
Small sample size caveats apply, but heading into Sunday's games the Clippers were outside the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, per Basketball-Reference.
That needs to change if the Clippers want to compete with the best teams in the league.
Get Blake Griffin Going
Coming into Sunday, Blake Griffin was shooting worse from the field than all four of the Clippers' rotation guards and averaging under 16 points per game.
Griffin is capable of being a premier scorer and needs to take it upon himself to be more aggressive.
Too often he catches the ball and looks to pass it off instead of always being on the attack. Consequently, he becomes predictable on offense because defenders recognize the signs for when Griffin will pass and when he will attack.
More pick-and-roll plays with Griffin rolling hard to the rim instead of popping out for a jump shot will invigorate his game, raise his field goal percentage and put more pressure on opposing defenses.
Play Eric Bledsoe More
Heading into Sunday, Eric Bledsoe was averaging just 18 minutes per game. That's a number that needs to go up in a hurry.
Bledsoe is a game-changing force who can spark runs with his energy and athleticism. While still raw and prone to mistakes, he has a knack for making plays and appearing to be everywhere at once.
More playing time for Bledsoe will provide a boost to the team's defense. Last season, the Clippers gave up 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bledsoe on the court according to 82games.com.
It may seem difficult to find more run for Bledsoe given that Chris Paul is ahead of him on the depth chart, but Vinny Del Negro shouldn't hesitate to have both point guards on the floor together. Their aggression and activity on both ends of the court can change the entire complexion of a game in a heartbeat.
Can't Take Nights off
I mentioned earlier how the Clippers have some impressive wins on their resume already this season, including W's over the Spurs, Lakers and Grizzlies—three of the top four teams in the Western Conference a season ago.
Curiously though, L.A.'s two losses have come courtesy of the lowly Warriors and Cavaliers. Not only did they drop both of those games at home (in consecutive contests, no less), the Clips gave up an average of 111 points to those two teams.
If the Clippers want to be taken seriously as championship contenders, they should dominate at home against inferior competition. They can't afford to play down to the level of their opposition.
Taking nights off leads to losses, which leads to a worse seed in the playoffs, which leads to a tougher road to a title. The truly elite teams handle their business and leave no doubt that they are legitimate title threats.
It's time for the Clippers to ascend to that level.