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Clippers are a work in process

They have improved a great deal so far, keeping things simple while working their new pieces into the action. But they still need to work on defense, rebounding and free throws.

January 12, 2012|By Broderick Turner
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, center DeAndre Jordan, center, and guard Chauncey Billups try to grab a rebound during the Clippers' overtime victory against the Miami Heat on Wednesday. Despite the impressive win, the Clippers have room for improvement.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, center DeAndre Jordan, center,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Process: A natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result — Webster's Dictionary.

It has become part of the Clippers' vernacular, seemingly used in every statement they make.

They are eight games into the regular season, sporting a 5-3 record and having just beaten a Miami Heat team that many predict will win the NBA championship.

Yet "process" remains a big part of the lexicon used by the Clippers, from the players to the coaching staff.

"We know that we are a team that's still developing," guard Chris Paul said. "But we want to win while we are getting to know each other. It's a process. But we all believe that we will become a good team."

So, Coach Vinny Del Negro, what is your team's identity?

"We're still a work in progress. It's a process," Del Negro said with his usual refrain. "We have to get some battle scars together. We have to go through some experiences and handle some adversity and become more consistent."

Even though the Clippers are almost three weeks into the season, they are still dealing with seven new players, three of them starters.

They added Paul in a mega-trade with the New Orleans Hornets. They signed veteran guard Chauncey Billups after he was waived by the New York Knicks, and they signed free agent Caron Butler to a three-year, $24-million contract. They also added free-agent power forward Reggie Evans.

The Clippers have all these new pieces, and in many ways they are still moving parts to make them fit together.

Del Negro has made it somewhat easy for them by running what one NBA scout described as "basic NBA sets" of plays. The Clippers are running a lot of pick-and-rolls that are already well known to the Clippers' core of veterans.

Paul is perhaps the best at running that type of offense.

"Between Chauncey, Chris Paul and Caron Butler, at some point in their NBA career, they have run the type of [plays] they are running with the Clippers," said the scout for a Western Conference team.

So far, the Clippers are a good offensive team: They are averaging 98.7 points, seventh-best in the league before Thursday night's games. And the Clippers are shooting 46.7% from the field, sixth in the NBA.

They also take care of the basketball, averaging 13.1 turnovers per game, the second-best mark in the NBA. And most of that has to do with Paul.

It also helps that Blake Griffin averages 23.2 points per game, seventh-best in the NBA, plus 10.8 rebounds. And Paul is averaging 8.8 assists, fifth-best in the league.

"I think in stretches we do some really good things," Del Negro said. "We have to do it in longer stretches. That comes with time and being together."

Here's the rub:

Del Negro is quick to point out what his team needs to improve. "Our focus has to be on the defensive end of the court," he said.

The Clippers are giving up 96.5 points per game, which means they ranked 22nd out of 30 teams. Opposing teams are also making 45% of their shots against them, which again puts the Clippers in the bottom third of the league rankings.

But it's not like the Clippers can't be a good defensive team, the scout said.

They have a shot-blocker and a defensive presence in center DeAndre Jordan, who leads the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 3.38 per game.

"They need some work for their team cohesion on defense," the scout said. "DeAndre is a good rim-protector, a good individual defender. But their team defense is where it needs to start."

Another issue for the Clippers is their poor rebounding.

They average 37 rebounds per game, last in the NBA, and have been outrebounded in five of their eight games.

"Teams like that that are so athletic they tend to rely on their athleticism," the scout said. "They don't box out. They don't do the little things. Just because you can always out-jump everybody, it's not always about that."

Also, the Clippers aren't a good free-throw shooting team, making 67.3% of their shots — next-to-last in the NBA.

"Look, I know I keep saying this is a process," Del Negro said. "But it is. We're trying to make progress, and we will."

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