HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Clippers hadn’t won six straight games since March of 1992. That’s a full 20 years of mostly bad basketball.
Even in the 2005-06 season, when the Clippers went 47-35 and made their only trip to the playoffs in the last 14 seasons, their longest winning streak was five games.
This season’s Clippers won four in a row back in late January, but lost Chauncey Billups for the season a few games later, and went 12-14 in the first 26 games without their veteran leader.
Now, with last night’s easy win over the defending champs, the Clips have won six straight, and are again looking like a team that can win a playoff series or two.
ESPN’s Marc Stein was in Dallas last night…
Credit the Clips, if nothing else, for an admirable response to adversity. With pressure mounting on Del Negro, L.A.’s fourth-quarter failure to overtake the injury-ravaged New Orleans Hornets in Paul’s first-ever game as a visitor to the Crescent City could have easily sent the Clips into a deep, dark spiral. Instead? The first game of a season-defining five straight home dates was the toughest, but they dredged up the requisite spirit and beat Memphis by 16, launching the resurrection.
The next four teams they toppled (Hornets, Suns, Blazers and Jazz) were hardly world-beaters, true, but the Clips were in no state to scoff at any W after the drubbings they absorbed in Indiana and Oklahoma City, followed by the debacle in the shadows of the French Quarter. Clips forward Caron Butler says now that a team meeting after the New Orleans loss is what prevented the dreaded spiral.
“We should not be trying to find our identity at this point in the season,” Butler said. “We should have that already. So we discussed it and we agreed that we’ve got to get everyone involved. Since then this team’s had a totally different disposition. Guys are making the extra pass, we’re sharing that ball and that’s what we’ve got goin’ right now. When we play defense and share the ball, we’re a scary team. With all these weapons, it’s tough to load up on Chris and Blake.”
The Clippers have been up and down all season, mostly because they’ve struggled defensively. Before the streak began, they ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions.
Over the last six games though, the Clippers have allowed just 97 points per 100 possessions. And Friday’s 98-97, slow-paced win over the Blazers was really the only game in the streak that they won by just out-gunning their opponent.
Not that the Clippers have had trouble scoring during the streak. They’ve scored 110 points per 100 possessions over the six games, which is pretty potent. And last night in Dallas, they finally got some offense from the two spot, with Randy Foye draining eight 3-pointers and scoring a season-high 28 points.
But more important was that L.A. held the Mavs to just 33 points in the first half. If the Clippers are going to win in the postseason, they need to be able to have defensive stretches like that.
The biggest statistical key has been an increase in forcing turnovers. L.A. had forced just 15.2 turnovers per 100 possessions through their first 47 games, but have forced 17.7 over the last six, with 10 different guys on the roster picking up at least three steals during the streak. Chris Paul, of course, has led the way with 13 steals. But Eric Bledsoe has six in just 80 minutes during the streak.
The forced turnovers have produced an increase in transition opportunities, which is where the Clippers are at their best.
Six games is a small sample size, and three of the wins have come against bad offensive teams (Memphis, New Orleans and Dallas). But this is easily the best stretch of defense the Clippers have played all season. And it’s coming at the right time of year.