Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers from the New Orleans Hornets as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan jumped for joy and proclaimed themselves as “lob city.”
The team got off to a tremendous 19-8 start and looked destined to be an immediate contender.
Soon after losing Chauncey Billups to a torn Achilles tendon, however, the team’s lack of cohesion became more apparent by the game.
Caron Butler fell off the map, Griffin’s offense proved to be limited in key situations, and Chris Paul’s play outside of the fourth quarter became uninspiring.
There are rumblings for the head of coach Vinny Del Negro.
After losing 12 of their last 19 contests, there is speculation around the league regarding whether Del Negro will last the season.
On a night when Paul returned home to a mixture of cheers and boos, things didn’t get any better for the Clippers as they were outplayed in the fourth quarter by the Hornets – the second-worst team in the league – and suffered their third-consecutive road loss.
Although players have publicly defended and supported Del Negro through the media, they may privately have given up on him.
From Chris Broussard of ESPN: “With the Los Angeles Clippers in free fall, tensions are high in the club’s locker room, most notably in the relationship between coach Vinny Del Negro and his players, according to several sources close to the situation. “Vinny has lost the team,” one source said. “They don’t want to play hard for him.”… 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.”
Of course, a rumor isn’t a rumor without conflicts.
From Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: “Del Negro acknowledged that he’s as frustrated as the players. He said he’s not putting “credence” into “sources” who have his job on the line or say the players aren’t following him anymore. “When you’re losing games, everyone jumps on you. If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t do the job,” Del Negro said. “That’s part of it. You have to win games. That’s what you’re measured on and we haven’t played as well as I would like or anybody.” Many of the players said Del Negro has been as tough on Griffin and Paul as the other players. Last week Del Negro chastised Griffin, yelling at him in front of his teammates for his poor defense and attitude. “I’m probably harder on Chris and Blake than anybody,” Del Negro said. “They should be held to a different standard because of the level of players they are. So that’s where people get into all these sources. It’s just ridiculous.”
Adding insult to injury, Jason Smith did this to Griffin and is likely to face a suspension from the league.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: The forecasters were calling for doom as the Celtics embarked on their eight-game road trip nearly two weeks ago. But the storm has yet to hit. With last night’s 100-91 victory over the Bucks, the Celts can do no worse than .500 on the journey. And if they win tonight in Philadelphia, they would carry the Atlantic Division lead in the cargo hold of their charter aircraft. Who would have thunk? “This is a mentally strong group,” said Paul Pierce after the Celtics had played in a different time zone for a fourth straight game. … That latter opportunity was built last night largely on the back of Pierce, who made 10-of-15 shots from the floor (all three treys) on the way to 25 points. That haul allowed him to pass Clyde Drexler for 26th place on the NBA all-time scoring list. “I won’t be satisfied until I pass Ray Allen,” cracked Pierce, whose teammate stands at 24, with Tim Duncan between them.”
With the loss, Milwaukee’s season-high six-game winning streak came to a halt while it fell 1 1/2 games behind New York for the eighth and final seed in the East.
- Indiana overcame a 20-point deficit after halftime to defeat the lowly Wizards 85-83. Roy Hibbert led the Pacers with 19 points and nine rebounds. Washington was sloppy in the final minute as it failed to secure a single defensive rebound in three chances, turned the ball over from inbounds, and watched John Wall dribble out the clock and hit a floater that came after the buzzer.
- It was an honorary night for Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Houston’s championship teams of the 1990s, and the Rockets honored them by routing the tanking Warriors, 109-83, for their second consecutive victory. Chandler Parsons starred with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists while Goran Dragic ran the show with 17 points and nine assists. With the victory, the Rockets held their eighth seed and sit just one game behind fourth- seeded Dallas.
- Refusing to give up on a seemingly lost season, the visiting Blazers held on to beat the suddenly struggling Grizzlies, 97-93, for just their fourth win in the last 13 games. Nicolas Batum led all scorers with 24 points and Wesley Matthews added 18 and nine rebounds. Marc Gasol had 22 points and nine rebounds for Memphis, which lost for the fifth time in seven games to drop to the fifth seed.
- Al Jefferson’s putback of a miss by Devin Harris with 0.9 seconds left helped Utah escape Sacramento with a 103-102 victory. Jefferson led all scorers with 26 points on an efficient 13-of-19 shooting while Gordon Hayward had a nice all-around game with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The Jazz have won five straight games and sit just one-half game behind the Rockets for the eighth seed and 1 1/2 games out of the fourth seed.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.