Losing streaks can do nasty things to teams. Losses, particularly on a team that expects to compete for championships, bring frustrations to the surface and a search for what is going wrong.
The Clippers snapped a four-game losing streak two weeks ago with a victory against the Timberwolves. That losing streak though began testing Los Angeles and the team's role as contender in the Western Conference. Wins over the Spurs and Grizzlies looked nice, but that four-game skid included losses to Atlanta and New Orleans. Not exactly title-contending teams.
The home loss to the Hornets especially struck a cord.
In that loss, Blake Griffin scored a career-low four points and there was some frustrating bubbling. Griffin came out after the game and vented some of that frustration that comes with losing streaks in a loss. After that loss to the Hornets two weeks ago, Griffin questioned the rotation and changes to the gameplan coaches implemented beforehand:
I think we tried to change some things, tried to change our schemes and some things we have been successful at and that hurt us. I think we should play teams how we play every team. We made adjustments down the stretch when certain guys hurt us and I think we should have stuck with what we had been doing and what has made us successful.
Hard to argue that the Clippers were not successful beforehand. Vinny Del Negro was tinkering with a smaller lineup down the stretch in that game, opting to leave DeAndre Jordan on the bench. The matchups may have called for that.
This is the kind of complaint that Del Negro has fought off for much of his coaching career as the perception with him has been that he is unable to get the most out of his talent. That might be soemthing that waits for the Playoffs to be proven out yet again, but this had the potential to fester.
That is, unless the Clippers started winning.
Now it seems like only a footnote. Whatever lineup Del Negro is using now seems to work. The Clippers have burned off six straight wins since that frustration and Griffin has been solid in that time. Griffin has averaged 20.7 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game. All while shooting 60.2 percent from the floor.
That small lineup Del Negro tried has been put on the shelf, it would seem. DeAndre Jordan has not played fewer than 23 minutes since that 15-minute outing in the loss to New Orleans, averaging 9.7 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Not gaudy stats, obviously, but Jordan makes a much larger impact on the defensive end.
More importantly, Del Negro has stuck with Jordan even when he struggles to score. Sunday against Toronto, Jordan scored seven points but shot only 1 for 7 from the floor.
In the fourth quarter, Los Angeles held Toronto to just 10 points to put the game away. And that is the other place the Clippers have received a boost for this win streak. Los Angeles' depth is starting to develop as Chauncey Billups has returned from injury (and false started as he is back on the shelf). Lamar Odom is starting to get himself into shape and contribute to this team. Grant Hill is still waiting in the wings and Matt Barnes also adds defensive grit to this team.
Defense is where the identity will be built for the Clippers. And that may be what Griffin was thinking in the late stages of that loss to New Orleans two weeks ago. In this current win streak, the Clippers are giving up 92.0 points per game and winning by a margin of 16.8 points per game. The only "close" games were a six-point win over Minnesota to kick things off and a one-point win over Utah. The win streak includes a 35-point beatdown of Sacramento.
Los Angeles needs its defensive rock and needs to commit to that end to win games when things start getting tough.
That appears to be what the Clippers did to spark this win streak.
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