- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- There aren't many philosophical holdovers on the Los Angeles Clippers from when Vinny Del Negro was the coach.
Doc Rivers' overhaul of the old regime has been so thorough and meticulous that even minute details such as travel itineraries and seat assignments falls under watch. Almost nothing happens with the Clippers now without Rivers' approval.
But one major clichéd leftover from Del Negro is this constant talk of a "process." Del Negro was famous for always saying the Clippers were working the process and explaining how you can't cheat the process and you have to be patient with the process. There seemingly wasn't a news conference he had over the past two seasons where he didn't utter that word at least a handful of times.
Rivers isn't as bad, but it certainly has been one of his favorite words.
The major difference between Rivers and Del Negro when they use that word is that Rivers expects the Clippers to be done with their process by the time the playoffs arrive. There was never really an end in sight for when Del Negro's process would finally culminate in something greater than a bunch of regular-season wins.
Del Negro always pointed to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a good model for that process. They were a team that made it to the first round, second round, conference finals and NBA Finals. It's an impressive four-year run, but it has yet to result in an NBA championship.
Rivers doesn't want the Clippers' process to last four years and he wants to win a title now.
"I don't want it to take that long," Rivers said. "I want to win. Why not? That doesn't mean we will, but you have to have some dreams here at least. I don't want to be that group that says, 'OK, guys, let's get to the second round and then we're good.' That's too low for me expectation wise."
The Clippers lost to the Thunder 105-91 on Thursday with the teams splitting the two games they played over the past eight days. The Clippers were playing the second game of a road back-to-back after playing in Minnesota, while the Thunder last played Monday at home against Denver. Rivers made sure to note the disparity after the game but said it was ultimately the Clippers' defense and not the schedule-makers that did them in.
"They had three days to prepare, they were into it early and we just couldn't get it going," Rivers said. "Our defense let us down in the end."
When Rivers talks about the Clippers' process and where he wants them to be by the end of the season, a lot of it has to do with the team improving on defense and maturing overall. He isn't worried about the scoring. The Clippers are second in the league in scoring (108.7 points per game) but are one of only four teams in the NBA giving up more than 105 points per game.
There will be times this season, much like Thursday night, when the Clippers will need their defense to pick up the slack and get a couple of stops to get them back in the game. That didn't happen and Rivers is hoping it will only be a matter of time before it does.
"I'm hoping six to eight weeks from now, our defense will allow us to stay in the game," Rivers said. "From the first quarter, you could see we didn't have it offensively, everybody was kind of missing shots and didn't have any rhythm. When we don't have any pace from anybody, you know that's not a good sign. We gave ourselves a fighting chance, so that's what you want when things aren't going well. What I want to get to though, is to be able to win a game against a great team when you don't have your game, and I thought we had a chance to do that tonight, but we kind of let go of the rope."
The ability to hold on to that rope and climb back into a game has a lot to do with maturity and not allowing bad calls or bad plays get the best of you, which far too often has been a problem for the Clippers. Rivers has constantly preached the importance of composure and having good body language regardless of the score, but like most things with this team it's, well, a process.
"We talk about team composure all the time and at the end of the day you got to have it," Rivers said. "We tend to lose our focus on things that have nothing to do with the game. That's something we work on every day. We talk about it every day and we've gotten so much better. I'll get on the officials, but we have to keep on playing because the game will not stop for you even when you're mad. It's not going to let you cool down and let you get yourself together and then we'll keep playing. The game will never stop. I tell our guys that. Whether you're mad or happy or whatever, the game's going to continue and you have to continue to play. I think we're getting better at that for sure."
Rivers has told his players not to talk to the officials and allow him to complain on their behalf, and Chris Paul has taken that to heart recently. In fact, he has gone from constantly chirping at officials to not talking to them unless he has to.
"I don't talk to the officials no more," Paul said. "I don't even go to the captains meetings. You can only have two players and we have three [captains] me, Blake [Griffin] and [DeAndre Jordan], so Blake and D.J. do it so I cut my dialogue down. I like that because it just gives me a chance to play."
As much as Rivers wants to fast-forward the Clippers' process and become a championship team, he knows the Clippers first have to get past teams like the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, who have been there and done that already.
"Oklahoma has been to the Finals," Rivers said. "They've been deep. We're trying to get there. I'm sure they view us as a team that's trying to take it, and we view them as a team that we have to try to beat. All those teams are ahead of us right now."