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Friday, January 13, 2012
Friday practice notes

By Pedro Moura

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Notes and quotes from Friday's practice in preparation for the Los Angeles Lakers, which came in at just under two hours:

Statement games

The Clippers topped Miami at Staples Center on Wednesday and face the Lakers on Saturday. Naturally, the line of questioning after Friday's practice centered on so-called statement games and whether beating top teams mean anything more than beating other teams.

Forward Blake Griffin didn't deny that beating the Heat and Lakers would be statement wins. But he said they don't mean as much in the NBA as most think.

"It's big in college. But we're playing 66 games," Griffin said. "We could win 10 statement games and lose the other 56 and be in bad position. I'm not really for all that."

That's sort of what the Clippers did last season, when three of their first four wins came against teams who had the best record in the league at the time of the matchup. This season -- until Wednesday, at least -- the Clippers beat everybody they were supposed to beat and lost to everybody they were supposed to lose to.

Of course, the term statement game was also thrown around when the Clips beat the Lakers twice in a row in the preseason. But point guard Chris Paul said those wins didn't mean anything for the Clippers, "other than the fact that we we ran some of our plays and they ran some of theirs."

"It's really not the same intensity as a division game for us," Paul said. "We have to take care of our home court."

Kobe at his best

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is in the middle of one of his best stretches in recent years, but he's not worrying the Clippers any more this week than normally.

"It's always a challenge," Paul said of defending Bryant.

As it is with any star player in today's NBA, it's not about holding Bryant to 20 points or fewer or even 30 or fewer. The Clippers need to limit his play-making, more than anything.

"It’s not just a matter of just stopping him, but you have to slow him down and account for him," Griffin said. "But, at the same time, you can still beat a team even if one guy has 40 or 50."

One strategy the Clips will probably employ involves the 3-point line. Entering Friday, Bryant's 3-point shooting had been the worst of any NBA player at just under 20 percent.

"You've gotta make him beat you from over the top," coach Vinny Del Negro said.

Defense

Remember games two and three of this season, when the Clippers gave up 115 and 114 points in consecutive contests?

Those were pretty terrible defensive performances. And the Clips weren't exactly stout on defense in the two preseason games against the Lakers last month, either, as they gave up an average of 99 points.

They've since allowed under 90 points in four of their last five, prompting Griffin to praise the team's defensive progress Friday.

"I think we have made the biggest strides in that area," Griffin said. "But that was also one of the biggest areas in which we needed to improve."

The glass

Something else the Clippers have largely been pretty terrible at this year: rebounding. Reggie Evans has fixed that somewhat since his insertion into the rotation last week, but the journeyman forward is still only 6-8 (if that) and maintains that he's not yet in peak physical condition.

Thus, the Clips are still the worst in the NBA at total rebounding per game, and the Lakers happen to be the best -- picking up nearly 10 more boards per game.

It's not hard to see how that could be an issue in Saturday's game -- which is why Del Negro kept mentioning Friday that the Lakers' bigs are so "long" and adept in the post.

"You have to control their rebounding," he said. "You gotta know where the ball's gonna be."

The Clippers were out-rebounded in each of their first six games but have bounced back to be even with their opponents in their last two, including a close 50-45 margin against Miami.

"There were some positives there," Del Negro said.