Clippers forward Al-Farouq Aminu has seen his playing go up the last three games, and he knows the reason is not so much about his abilities with the ball in his hands.
"Coach always said, 'Defense is going to get you out on the court,' " Aminu said.
The 6-foot-9 rookie has averaged 27 minutes the last three games. He is averaging 11 points and six rebounds in that stretch, while giving the Clippers a threat from beyond the three-point line.
But it's the things he has done at the other end that have Coach Vinny Del Negro running Aminu onto the floor.
"There is going to be a process for him to learn the speed and physicality of the game on the defensive end," Del Negro said. "Offense comes pretty easy for him.
"He's still a young kid. He's getting stronger, but this is a process. There are no shortcuts. It takes time, work and patience."
Aminu said he is sopping up as much as he can, as fast as he can, on the defensive end. Still, he remains on the learning curve, only months removed from college.
"Offensively, I kind of know what I can do and can't do," Aminu said. "But if my guy scores more than me, there is no point in me being out there.
"It's positioning, knowing the scheme of our defense, knowing when you can be physical and when you can't be physical."
As for the extended playing time, Aminu said, "it is giving me more and confidence. I know what my role is coming off the bench. I have to try to be a spark, give us some energy, rebound, things like that."
While Aminu's playing time has increased, swingman Rasual Butler's time has all but evaporated. He did not play in two of the last three games and logged two minutes against Sacramento.
The drop in time has been due not only to Aminu's play, but the return of guard Randy Foye and the development of guard Eric Bledsoe.
"There are only so many minutes," Del Negro said. "I don't want to play a guy only few a minutes unless I have to. I'd rather get some type of rhythm, some type of rotation."
Forward Craig Smith, out since Dec. 18 because of a herniated disk in his back, said he has improved considerably since having an epidural last week.
"The first couple days [after the epidural] were pretty difficult," Smith said. "After that, it helped a lot. It freed up the swelling. It got rid of the pain. It was crazy. I had pain shooting all the way down my leg. It hurt."
Now, he said, "My body is feeling real good." But, he added, "I got to be careful that I don't do anything that brings it back."