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Monday, February 4, 2013
Clippers looking to get defensive

By Arash Markazi

BOSTON –- As the Los Angeles Clippers left TD Garden on Sunday night and boarded a flight to Washington for Monday’s game against the Wizards, they were each holding iPads containing footage of their last two games against the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.

It wasn’t exactly the kind of viewing material they were hoping for during their flight, but it was a necessity.

The Clippers still have one of the top four defenses in the league statistically, giving up just 93.6 points per game, but they have begun to unravel on the road in the early stages of their 14-day, eight-game trip.

Worse yet, up until the second half of their loss to the Celtics, their offense was just as bad.

The Clippers have given up 204 points in their last two games with the turning point in both losses coming in the second quarter. The Clippers scored a combined 23 points during the second quarters of their past two games, while shooting just 21 percent (7-for-33) from the field.

Before embarking on this trip, Blake Griffin said he wanted the Clippers to go 8-0 on the road. Lamar Odom, a veteran of these “Grammy trips” with the Los Angeles Lakers, said 5-3 or better would be acceptable.

After a 1-2 start with games against Washington, Orlando, Miami, New York and Philadelphia on the horizon, breaking even might be considered a success at this point as long as Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups are out. As much as it will help the Clippers’ offense to get their starting backcourt back, they understand a big reason why they are 2-6 in their last eight games is a defense that has given up more than 100 points four times during that stretch.

“We just haven’t played well defensively,” Griffin said. “That’s the key to our success. Even early in the season with Chris, that was the key. We have to be on our rotations defensively. We have to bring energy defensively to withstand a poor shooting night.”

Griffin believes the Clippers have relied too much on jump shots in the first half of their last two games and haven’t defended well in transition when they miss those shots or turn the ball over. That’s when they lost control of the games against Toronto and Washington and found themselves down by at least 19 points.

“That just gets the ball rolling for them,” Griffin said. “When it’s all said and done, you look up and you’re down 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 points. It’s tough.”

During the past eight games, the Clippers have tried to not make excuses for being without Paul and Billups, but it’s clear that their absences have affected what had been one of the best bench units in the league. It could certainly be argued that the Clippers’ second unit misses Eric Bledsoe’s energy off the bench as much as the starters miss the steady presence of Paul. It has created a domino effect throughout the lineup with Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill playing more minutes and taking on more roles than they did when Paul was healthy.

“It’s going to be like that with Chris out,” Griffin said. “It changes our dynamic. Jamal comes in a little bit earlier and he’s playing a little bit of a different role because he’s not in there with Eric at the same time. It’s going to happen but we’ve experienced it before and we’ve played well before so that can’t be an excuse for us.”

The spotlight has clearly been on Bledsoe in Paul’s absence. He was a player most believed was capable of being a starter on most teams this season and is always mentioned in possible trades because he’s a highly sought-after point guard prospect. On Sunday afternoon against the Celtics, Bledsoe had 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds and helped the Clippers cut a 19-point, second-half deficit to two points in the final seconds.

“Everybody knows Chris is a big part of our team,” Bledsoe said. “He just makes everything go so smooth and easy. We just have to play off of one another like we did when he first got hurt. It’s going to come along. We just have to stick with it and just play our game and we will. We’re going to bounce back.”