While getting Russell Westbrook into the flow was the priority for the Los Angeles Clippers, a renewed commitment on the defensive end appears to be the team’s focus now.
A solid opportunity to work on defensive principles arrives Wednesday when the Clippers play host to the Toronto Raptors. While Los Angeles ranked just 22nd in the NBA through Monday with an average of 112.7 points scored per game, Toronto was 23rd at 112.6.
The Clippers were torched for 176 points in a double-overtime defeat to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 24 and have given up 131.7 points per game starting with that night while going 1-5. The 176-175 loss to the Kings was Westbrook’s Clippers debut.
Even in a victory Sunday over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers gave up 129 points, with 51 of them coming in the third quarter alone. Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue adjusted his defense in the fourth quarter, leading to the victory.
“Last how many games, we we’re doing pretty good offensively, but we just can’t get any stops,” Clippers big man Ivica Zubac said. “I think getting back to the team that we were in the beginning of the year when I think we were one of the top three defensive teams in the league — I think that’s who we can be, who we should be if we want to be in a position to win a championship.”
While the Clippers went on a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter to defeat the Grizzlies, their opponent was extremely short-handed, missing four key contributors, including star Ja Morant.
“No matter how we got it, I’m happy now we can get that off our back and move forward,” said Westbrook about ending a five-game losing streak that began when he joined the team. “I think we did a good job of closing out the game on the defensive side.”
The Raptors enter off a 118-113 road defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
The game against the Western Conference’s top team could have been one of the Raptors’ better victories of the season. However, with Denver up by one in the final minute, Toronto’s Scottie Barnes was ejected, getting called for a technical foul after teammate Jakob Poeltl was called for a foul inside.
The Nuggets sank the three ensuing free-throw attempts to clinch the victory.
“I was just saying something to myself and I guess (the referee) took offense to it, so he threw me out of the game,” said Barnes, who had objected to foul calls earlier in the contest. “It was just normal talk. I felt like I got fouled on some, so I just told him about it a little bit. But I guess they were just mad. I don’t know.”
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 21 points and 14 assists in the defeat, while Pascal Siakam had 19 points and Poeltl logged 18 points and nine rebounds. Barnes contributed 12 points and nine boards.
The Raptors, who are 9-4 since Feb. 3, have another game at Los Angeles on Friday against the Lakers. Toronto then has only one away game over the following eight contests before a key five-game road trip just before the end of the regular season.
–Field Level Media