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Clippers learn another hard lesson in loss to Utah

They let down in second half of 109-97 defeat, their 15th loss in 18 games this season. But Coach Vinny Del Negro at least finds some teachable moments for his young team.

November 28, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Basketball and Vinny Del Negro were born in the same place, Springfield, Mass. So it would seem the former NBA guard was destined not just to play the game, but to teach it as well.

And class was in session again Sunday afternoon at Staples Center, where Professor Del Negro's youthful Clippers played host to the Utah Jazz.

The lesson was both sweeping and painful.

"What did we learn today from Utah?" Del Negro asked rhetorically. "You have to play 48 minutes. You have to stay with your system, you have to set good screens, you have to get easy baskets, you have to share the basketball."

The Jazz did all of that while the Clippers didn't do nearly enough, blowing an eight-point halftime lead in a 109-97 loss to Utah.

Of course, if it's true that the best education comes from making mistakes, then the error-prone Clippers (3-15) may have some players who qualify for doctorates by the end of the season.

"I'm still learning every game, every day," rookie forward Blake Griffin said. "And I make plenty of mistakes. It's just a matter of getting in the game."

Give Griffin an A for honesty. Because while the box score will show he had another spectacular outing — game highs of 35 points and 14 rebounds, plus seven assists — his report card will also include an incomplete since he and his teammates were frequently caught out of position on defense.

What's more, three of Griffin's game-high four turnovers came during a four-minute span of the third quarter in which the Jazz rallied to build a lead it never relinquished.

"It's frustrating," Griffin said. "We just need to keep working until we find something that works."

"It is tough," agreed guard Eric Gordon, who finished with 21 points and nine assists. "Mostly we beat ourselves."

Especially just after halftime. After shooting 59% from the field in the first half — five for eight from three-point range — the Clippers missed six of their first seven shots in the third quarter, half of them from inside the paint. They were a frigid five for 19 in the quarter, and also committed seven turnovers and eight fouls, allowing the Jazz to turn an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead.

Afterward Del Negro tried to find the silver lining, calling Utah's comeback a teachable moment.

"You just hope that each particular day you can grasp one thing and put it in your back pocket and improve on it and understand it," he said. "If you look at [the Jazz's] execution, their being able to control the tempo and not turn the ball over, it's a good thing to look at."

Injury update

After playing sparingly in the previous two games because of a strained left hamstring, guard Randy Foye was available Sunday, though he did not play. That left Del Negro to cobble together a backcourt combination from the foursome of Gordon, little-used Willie Warren, swingman Rasual Butler and Eric Bledsoe, who played on a painful ankle sprained Friday in Phoenix.

"We'll kind of be point guard by committee right now," said Del Negro, whose team may be forced to bring in some free-agent help for the short term if Foye and Baron Davis remain slow to heal.

"You never know. We'll talk about it," he said. "It's not paramount right now. We'll just wait and see what happens in the next couple of days."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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