Three games in three nights. Three losses. Each seemingly uglier than the last.
Right now, the Clippers are not a good basketball team, and coach Vinny Del Negro could pay the price for that.
A night after Del Negro’s postgame tirade at his team after it was blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers came out with a new energy in New Orleans on Thursday but were haunted by the same old problems — they don’t defend well (the Hornets shot 57.6 percent), they foul too much (the Hornets had 34 free throws) and when Chris Paul and the offense can’t bail them out they struggle.
The Clippers’ offense failed them late with 11 fourth-quarter points and the New Orleans Hornets won 97-90.
What has to turn the stomach of Clippers fans — and likely Clippers management — is how the less talented Hornets played with far more fire and passion. That is a feisty team that coach Monty Williams has executing to its strengths — Jarrett Jack (17 points, 9 assists) and Chris Kaman (20 points, 10 rebounds).
The feistiness got a little out of hand in the fourth quarter when Jason Smith put a full on body check on Blake Griffin as the Clippers star went up for a layup. Four Clippers including DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul ran over to Smith (who went back by the stands, which had to make David Stern queasy) but cooler heads prevailed.
Smith was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul and you can bet a multi-game suspension is coming. This hit was more reminiscent of something the Saints got in trouble for than the Hornets.
But while that put a new fire under the Clippers, it didn’t solve their execution problems.
Which may well tie into a report that Del Negro has lost the locker room. From Chris Broussard of ESPN:
Most of the players, according to sources, believe it’s time for a change. They cite the uncertainty of Del Negro’s rotation as a major problem…
Beyond that, players have complained that Del Negro’s offensive and defensive schemes are too basic and predictable and they say he plays favorites when handing out criticism, according to the sources. They say while he refuses to harshly criticize stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he does not hold back in jumping on the team’s lesser players.
“That’s a big problem,” one player said. “The best coaches jump on whoever deserves it, no matter who it is.”
Del Negro’s job changed when the Chris Paul trade happened before the season — they instantly went from a young team that Del Negro was supposed to help grow to a contender. There were questions in Clipper camp then if he was the right coach for that job, but he was going to be given a chance. He was going to get the season (his contract has a team option for next season).
“Vinny has lost the team,” one source said. “They don’t want to play hard for him.”
Even when they do, their flaws and execution betray them.
Something needs to change with the Clippers. They are 7-12 in their last 19 games and while they are still going to make the playoffs in the West they are fast becoming the team everyone hopes to draw.
It’s hard to see how that changes without a major shakeup.