Coach: Clippers have room to grow

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Coach Vinny Del Negro will be the first to admit he doesn't exactly know what to expect when the Los Angeles Clippers go back on the road for the first time since Dec. 28 on Tuesday to play the Portland Trail Blazers.

The last time the Clippers played a road game they lost to the San Antonio Spurs 115-90. The Clippers have won three straight games to start the new year but have also played the fewest number of games in the NBA to start the season.

"We still have a lot of growing to do," Del Negro said. "There are no shortcuts. We can't take any shortcuts with this. We're looking for good results but we have to have the mindset of improving everyday and whatever happens tomorrow night happens, as long as we play hard and we find a way to get better the results will eventually be there."

Going into their Tuesday night's game against Portland, the Clippers will have played at least two fewer games than every other team in the league. Their hallway neighbors at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers, have already played four more games than the Clippers to start the season.

Things will begin to change this week as the Clippers travel to Portland Tuesday before coming back home to play the Miami Heat on Wednesday, the team's first back-to-back of the season, and then play the Lakers on Saturday night.

When Del Negro was asked if the team was more prepared to play teams like Portland, Miami and the Lakers after getting blown out by San Antonio and the Chicago Bulls in December he shrugged his shoulders.

"I hope so, but we'll see," Del Negro said. "We have to play well. It comes down to doing the little things. It's not always about the spectacular plays. It's about the rotations defensively, it's the loose balls and making free throws. There's combination of things we have to do better."

The Clippers went through a full practice on Monday before boarding a flight for Portland. It will be only their third road game of the season and first this month. No team in the league has played fewer road games to start the season than the Clippers. The Clippers have taken advantage of their relatively light early schedule by jumping out to a 4-2 record, which is the best in the Pacific Division.

"This is a really big week for us, we have some really good teams on the menu," Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. "We've been lucky, this is our first back-to-back. You worry about the first game and not the second."

Del Negro believes the short road trip will help the team grow but he's still hoping for another kind of growth for his undersized team which still ranks last in the league in rebounding.

"I'm hoping we get a little taller and a little longer," Del Negro said. "If we grew that would be great. If we could wake up and everyone grew an inch or two when we get off the flight that would be great."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.