Sports Out West

Clippers’ focus entering NBA Playoffs? Defensive rebounding

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Clippers have come a long way since their opening night 116-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The roster is deeper, individual players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have improved dramatically on both ends of the floor, and the vision coach Doc Rivers had when joining the team is closer to becoming a reality.

Despite putting up a league-leading 107.8 points per game and sporting an average margin of victory of 7.1 points (No. 2 in NBA), the Clippers continue to struggle in one category: giving up offensive rebounds.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers on opening night last October, the biggest culprit for the unexpected loss was not securing the defensive boards. The Clippers gave up 18 offensive rebounds that led to 30 second-chance points for the Lakers. About 17 games into the season, the inability to rebound the ball  had become a noticeable worry as they gave up 17 offensive rebounds to the Indiana Pacers in a 105-100 loss at Staples Center. 60 games later, the Clippers are second-worst in the league in giving up offensive rebounds, allowing opponents to grab 12.2 offensive boards per game and 27.3 percent of available offensive rebounds. 

“It’s something we talk about going into every game,” Chris Paul said before Tuesday morning’s practice. “We need to rebound better. It’s a team effort… obviously DJ  leads the league in rebounding, but us guards have to get in there and help him.”

Despite Jordan leading the league in rebounding with an average of 13.8 per game, the Clippers consistently allow opponents to have multiple possessions. A successful defensive possession ends with a defensive rebound. Regardless of what the defensive efficiency numbers say (No. 8 in NBA), giving up extra-possessions is no recipe to become a champion. 

“It’s an emphasis. We gotta learn how to finish possessions,” Ryan Hollins added. “We’re doing great on defense, but you know, finishing the possession is everything. You know it’s not just DJ and the bigs, it’s a team conscious effort. That’s something that we would hate to go into the playoffs and actually lose off of not being ready, or giving up something that we know about. But that’s something we can control, it’s just an effort thing and acknowledging the problem.”

The conscious emphasis on the weakness is showing results as of late. The average offensive rebounds given up is down to 10 (from 12.3) over the team’s last three games. They would rank No. 3 in the league if the Clippers maintained that average for a full season. 

Fortunately for the Los Angeles, a majority of its potential Western Conference Playoffs opponents strategically choose to get back on defense over attacking the offensive glass. Other than the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies who grab 12.5 and 11.5 offensive rebounds per game, opponents like the Thunder, Spurs and Warriors tend to be less aggressive in pursuit of multiple possessions.

Come playoff time when the possessions are more limited and valued, giving up multiple chances to score will have tangible consequences.

The good news from the Clips’ standpoint is they’re recognizing the deficiency and working to improve it. 

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

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Rohit Ghosh

LA Clippers beat writer
Rohit is an L.A.-based sports journalist who contributes to SB Nation's Silver Screen and Roll, AccuScore, and the Taxi Squad Show based out of Utah. He also runs his own sports blog, Metta Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter @RohitGhosh where he discusses AccuScore projection data, a variety of sports-related topics, and even some Jazz music.