Friday, March 15, 2013 Updated: March 16, 8:59 PM ET
Clips must recapture early rhythm
By Arash Markazi ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Vinny Del Negro is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
Tell him that his team's 3-point defense is atrocious and he'll point to the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers are eighth in defensive efficiency.
Blake Griffin and the Clippers never lack fun, but does the team's levity rob it of the intensity it needs to compete?
Tell him that his team's half-court offense is nonexistent in big games and he'll point to the fact the Clippers are seventh in offensive efficiency.
Perhaps this would be a nice consolation prize if they gave out awards to teams finishing in the top eight in offensive and defensive efficiency, but they don't.
They give trophies only to teams that win championships, and if the Clippers want to be in the championship conversation, they must shore up their 3-point defense and become a better half-court team on offense.
Del Negro knows this, not that he's particularly interested in discussing it after being asked about it for the better part of this and last season.
"We just have to be more consistent in areas," Del Negro said. "We've talked about them ad nauseum at times, but it just comes down to guys wanting to do it and guys being in a position to do it. The effort's got to be there on a consistent basis, and we have to do a better job as a unit. It's not just one individual. You win and lose as a team. We just got to get our edge back, which we haven't played with in a while."
It's understandable that the Clippers, even with only 16 games left in the season, aren't quite a finished product. This is their first full season together after the core group was thrown together a couple of weeks before last season's lockout-shortened season.
The one thing that is not understandable, and is actually unacceptable, is that the Clippers have said they're not playing with the same level of intensity as they did earlier in the season. Players and coaches have blamed their level of intensity for their shortcomings on defense and why they haven't beaten a team seeded sixth or higher in the West since Jan. 14, going 0-6 during that stretch.
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"It's the intensity," Blake Griffin said. "It's getting back to playing with the aggressive style we were playing with before. We made mistakes early in the season, but we were playing so aggressive that we made up for them, and that's what we need to get back to.
"That's what the best teams are doing; their intensity gets better and better as the year goes on. They play better together, and their chemistry gets better. We had success early. I don't want to say that hurt us, but we took it for granted, and we just need to get back to it and how we were and play that same style because it worked for us. I think that early success made us feel like we had achieved something that we hadn't."
In the minds of Griffin and other Clippers players, this can be easily corrected over the final 16 games of the regular season. The problem with that is there is no practice for intensity and aggressiveness. Clippers players now raise their hands during games and pretend like they're turning a knob as they shout, "Turn up!"
But why do players have to remind each other to turn up the intensity against the top teams in the league? Shouldn't that be a given when you're going up against a team you might see in the playoffs with playoff seeding and home-court advantage on the line?
"I don't know," Griffin said when asked why the intensity has not been there as of late. "I wish we could pinpoint a reason. It's not great, especially going down the stretch here. We're not playing terribly, but I feel like it's one thing we need to get over. We've had it in spurts, but we need to be able to bring it against the top-tier teams. We'll find it."
The Clippers may find it, but don't ask Del Negro for a reason why it's not there. He was also unable to give a good answer why his team's intensity is lacking.
"No, I can't," Del Negro said. "Check the efficiency numbers. They'll probably tell you."
Well, at least the Clippers still have that going for them, which is nice.