It’s fair to say that in-season practices haven’t been a common occurrence for the Doc Rivers-era Clippers. With veteran teams that seem to constantly struggle with depth and injury issues, rest has simply been more important than practice.
After the last few weeks, though, the need for a practice was evident. The Clippers have had the densest November schedule in the NBA, playing sixteen games in a 27-day span, and they haven’t had two days off between games since October 28th and 29th, between their first two games. They won’t have two days of rest until December 5th and 6th, after they complete the final four games of their current six-game road trip, and then host Indiana.
On top of that, the Clippers have had a tough schedule—according to ESPN, they’ve played 3 more games than Cleveland at the same SOS, and have played a significantly tougher schedule than Golden State. The Clippers have played 10 games against teams with a record of .500 or above (Cleveland has 8, Golden State 5), and they’ve also played Detroit twice, a likely playoff team whose record is currently 8-10.
So, it’s been tough to practice. But after recent performances, it’s clear that L.A. needed it. The Clippers jumped out to an amazing start in the opening weeks of the season, with historically great numbers led by a notable #1 overall defensive rating. They’ve lost that ranking and the defensive prowess that they exhibited, allowing easy points, forcing less turnovers, and playing with less energy on the defensive end. In fact, while the Clippers’ offense has come along as the month of November has dragged on, their defense has fallen off a cliff.
Doc Rivers specifically cited defensive slippage as a point of emphasis in Saturday’s practice, and Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan both took responsibility in quotes from Clippers.com. The drop-off was obvious well before the Clippers allowed a 35-point opening quarter to Detroit on Friday night, as they’ve given up high scores to teams like Dallas (105), Sacramento (115), Memphis (111), and Minnesota (105) recently.
Hopefully, the combination of motivation from Friday’s loss and renewed sharpness from Saturday’s practice will spark a winning streak. While Sunday’s game against a beat-up Indiana Pacers squad and Tuesday’s match-up with the lowly Brooklyn Nets won’t be great measuring sticks for a true return to form, they’ll get to play both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in the first week of December. The Clippers team that we saw in the early weeks of the season can compete with the last two NBA Champions—the team that we’ve seen recently probably couldn’t, despite their good record.