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CLIPPERS FYI

Vinny Del Negro is still coaching the Clippers

There have been no discussions about letting the coach go, despite an 0-3 trip and the team's tenuous position in the Western Conference race.

March 23, 2012|By Broderick Turner

With the Clippers coming off an 0-3 trip, Coach Vinny Del Negro's job status has been scrutinized during these turbulent times.

Even though his players said they supported Del Negro, the decision to keep him as coach for the rest of the season and beyond ultimately rests with owner Donald Sterling.

Neil Olshey, the Clippers' vice president of basketball operations, declined to comment Friday about Del Negro.

There have been no discussions about letting Del Negro go before the end of this season and he is expected to be on the sidelines when the Clippers play the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, according to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to comment publicly.

Del Negro's contract is guaranteed for the rest of this season, and the Clippers have the option to renew his contract for next season.

The only assistant coach on Del Negro's staff with NBA head-coaching experience is Mark Iavaroni, who spent two seasons as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Clippers didn't practice Friday after returning home from New Orleans following their third consecutive loss on back-to-back-to-back road games this week. It was the first time this season the Clippers have lost three straight games. The coaching staff was expected to meet with Olshey on Friday afternoon.

"Of course there's pressure because everyone is very competitive and you want to win," Del Negro said Thursday before the Clippers lost in New Orleans. "I'm as competitive as the next guy. But talking about it is one thing. Going out and performing at a high level is another. That's my responsibility, getting this team ready to play and play at a better level."

The Clippers have 19 regular-season games left. They play the next five games at home.

But the logjam in the Western Conference has put the Clippers' playoff aspirations in a tough situation.

Before Friday night's games, the Clippers (26-21) were in the sixth spot, but only one game ahead of No. 9 Utah. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.

The Clippers began the season with high promise after they acquired Chris Paul and teamed him with Blake Griffin, the team's two All-Stars. The Clippers' flashy style of play triggered the nickname "Lob City," and in early February the Clippers were 15-7 and in first place in the Pacific Division.

But veteran guard Chauncey Billups sustained a season-ending left Achilles' tendon injury and since then the Clippers have gone 11-14, falling into second place in the division behind the Lakers.

One challenge for Del Negro is that the Clippers have only six players from last year's roster. And since the season began the Clippers have added Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons, Nick Young, and two other players who have since been released.

There has been little time for practice because of the league's compressed schedule. This month the Clippers will play 20 games.

Nevertheless, even during the three consecutive road losses there were signs of the Clippers playing hard. In Tuesday's loss at Indiana, Martin — now in his 12th NBA season — was barking out defensive instructions from the bench to 23-year-old center DeAndre Jordan, who was moving to his spots on the court.

Etc.

The Clippers got a bit of good news Friday when the MRI on Mo Williams' injured left big toe revealed no significant damage. However, the team said Williams will not play Saturday against the Grizzlies and that he will be listed as day-to-day. Williams is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 13.7 points a game. After being injured in the fourth quarter of Thursday's loss to the New Orleans Hornets, he left the arena with a walking boot and on crutches.

Hornets forward Jason Smith was suspended for two games by the NBA on Friday for his body check on Griffin that knocked him to the floor in the fourth quarter. Because of the suspension Smith will miss Monday's game when the Hornets play the Clippers at Staples Center. … The Clippers are expected to re-sign small forward Simmons before Saturday's game. Simmons signed two 10-day contracts with the Clippers but didn't get another offer from the team after his deal expired last Sunday. The Clippers told Simmons they hoped to bring him back after the three-game trip.

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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