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Friday, February 8, 2013
No excuses, Clippers have to be better

By Arash Markazi

MIAMI -- Blake Griffin sat quietly in front of his locker as he heard his teammates give interviews around him. Each one tried to put a positive spin on what was one of the worst beatings the Los Angeles Clippers have suffered this season.

The silver lining in the Clippers' 111-89 loss to the Miami Heat on Friday night, as many in the locker room saw it, was that for the first time this season every player on the Clippers' roster was healthy and in uniform.

Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups
Chris Paul, left, and Chauncey Billups had subpar performances in their return to the Clippers' lineup.
As Griffin looked at the final box score, that wasn't good enough for him, and quite frankly it shouldn't be good enough for the Clippers, either.

"Nah, I wish we could," Griffin said, standing in the deserted visitor's locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena when he was asked if he could chalk up the loss to working through the kinks of getting everyone back. "They beat us pretty badly and we needed better effort. We can't just write this off to we got everybody back and we're a little rusty. No. We have to be better."

Chances are the Clippers will be better because the players who returned from their injuries Friday night will be better than they played.

Chris Paul will be better than three points on 1-for-5 shooting with three turnovers in less than 20 minutes.

Chauncey Billups will be better than seven points on 2-for-5 shooting in 16 minutes.

And, yes, Griffin will also usually be better than 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes.

There is a big difference between being healthy and simply being back, and on Friday many of the Clippers' key players were back but not exactly healthy, or at least as healthy as they will be when they get a few more games under their belts.

That still might not have been enough to beat the Miami Heat when LeBron James scores 30 points on 9-for-11 shooting with six assists and five rebounds, but they probably wouldn't have fallen behind by 32 points in the third quarter, their largest deficit this season, either.

"You can see [Paul] is a little tentative and you could see he wasn't quite as aggressive, but it was good to have him out there," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It's something we're going to build on. I could have come back with him in the fourth [quarter] with Chauncey, but the game was out of hand at that point."

The biggest thing the Clippers will have to build on -- or at least begin to build from scratch -- is perimeter defense. The common thread in most of the Clippers' losses this season has been poor perimeter defense and a failure to defend anything beyond the arc. On Friday, Miami made 15 of 27 3-pointers and finished with a better shooting percentage from three-point range (55.6 percent) than from the field (52.9 percent).

"The 3-point defense is my biggest concern," Del Negro said. "We'll lock-in defensively, which we have most of the season, but we got to get our rotations down now and figure out guys' minutes and who's doing what at what part of the game and just put it all together."

These are usually things coaches and teams talk about during training camp. That's essentially what the past couple of days have felt like for the Clippers, who went through their first two practices with the entire team heading into Friday's game. As good as it may be to get everyone back, there's no doubt that a blowout loss certainly takes some of the luster off that. Or so you would think.

"We're not going to hang our heads," Paul said. "You never make excuses when guys shoot the lights out. We never really made any impact defensively. ...

"I'm actually excited that we're back on the court. For us, it's not about this game. It is what it is. We'd love to win, but it's all about seeing what this team is all about."

What this team is all about is still very much a work in progress, which is an odd thing to say heading into the NBA All-Star break, well past the midway point of this season. The Clippers say they think they know what they have but still don't know when it will all come together on the court. The only thing that was apparent in Miami is that it hasn't come together yet and isn't where it needs to be to beat the defending champion on the road.

"Hopefully it won't take long, with the group we got I don't think it will take long at all," Paul said. "We got guys that know how to play. We're going to be just fine. Chauncey wasn't playing with us when we won 17 in a row and I think we're better now than we were then. I'm excited. As long as we're healthy we know we're just fine."