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Clippers' Vinny Del Negro faces uphill coaching battle

Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro, no stranger to criticism this season, must steer his team back on track after loss to San Antonio in Game 1.

May 16, 2012|By Matt Stevens
  • Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro, standing with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, has been the subject of much speculation about his job status this season.
Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro, standing with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe,… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

SAN ANTONIO — For at least a day or two, Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro was free of criticism and gaining credibility. His team had just pulled off an unlikely Game 7 upset of the Memphis Grizzles on the road, and praise for the coach flew in from all directions.

It was a very different scene Tuesday after the Clippers were manhandled in a 16-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and a dejected Del Negro kept his head bowed for much of the postgame press conference.

It will be up to Del Negro to prove that he can make winning adjustments.

"We have to do a better job with a sense of urgency getting out to shooters," Del Negro said after the loss. "We need to do a better job at our pick-and-roll coverages so we can get back and bump our wings out. We have to do a better job at controlling the glass and controlling the turnovers and making plays when we have opportunities."

Del Negro hasn't been immune from criticism and speculation about his job status this season. It doesn't help in this series he now is being compared to the Spurs' Gregg Popovich, a 16-year veteran with four championships and the longest tenure with a single team of any current NBA coach. Popovich has been with the Spurs so long he even coached Del Negro as a player for two years. Popovich joked on Sunday that the Clippers' coach was "limited athletically," but added that those limits "made him smart."

"There's usually about one to three people on every team where you know they really get it, and he was one of those guys," said Popovich of his former player.

Asked before Game 1 if San Antonio had a coaching advantage, Del Negro answered, "Absolutely."

"Pop has done it. He's hung banners," Del Negro said. "He's been doing it for a long time. He's a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for."

And Del Negro is not alone. Veteran center Kenyon Martin said he has "battled" Popovich in the playoffs four times, and he sees the same thing over and over.

"The open man always hits the shot," he said. "That's what they do well. They do an excellent job of spreading the floor, making plays, and guys do an excellent job being unselfish."

That's exactly what happened Tuesday as the Spurs nailed 13 of their 25 three-point attempts, tying a franchise record for most threes made in a playoff game. Martin said the Clippers "have to go back to the drawing board" and it will be Del Negro doing the drawing at Wednesday afternoon's practice.

The Clippers coach said he sometimes "bounces things off" Popovich with a phone call when he needs a little coaching advice. He could use some now, but in this series, such a phone call won't be possible.

matt.stevens@latimes.com

twitter.com/mattstevenslat

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