DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS TO BE TESTED IN DESERT

DeAndre Jordan stands in between Eric Gordon and the basket.

PHOENIX – Even though their scoring numbers suggest they are an offensive-oriented team, the Clippers have long believed their defense sets the tone for everything they do. Whether it be fueling a transition game that netted a 25-2 advantage on Saturday against the Pelicans or what they will have to lean on come April and May in the postseason.

That’s why the Clippers (41-20), in the midst of a four-game winning streak, have sounded so excited about where an admittedly inconsistent defense seems to be headed after arguably their best back-to-back games on that end of the floor of the season.

“It’s nice,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “You can see them buying in to a lot of the stuff. Matt [Barnes] has been fantastic for the last week on the defensive end. The offensive end, he’s obviously good there too. Defensively, I just think some of the things he did tonight were just being in the right place which disrupts the other team.”

Barnes getting to full strength has helped as has the continued trust that the group, playing together in Rivers’ system for the first time, has built over the past four months.

“I think everybody trusts each other and everybody wants to help each other and wants to be in the right spot defensively,” said Darren Collison, who started at shooting guard against the Pelicans in place of Jamal Crawford and helped slow down James Harden in the second half of the Clippers’ win over the Rockets last week. “[The trust] was there and it wasn’t. We were inconsistent, but we did show signs of what our team can be. We’ve got to be consistent through this process. As long as we’re getting better that’s all that matters.”

The newfound trust for a defense that has allowed just 85.5 points and 38.5 percent shooting in the past two games and vaulted to No. 8 in defensive efficiency will be tested on Tuesday against the Suns. 

“[We have to] really pulled in, really be ready for help defense,” Blake Griffin said. “Goran Dragic can create for a lot of guys. They have a lot of guys who can create for themselves and score and play one-on-one basketball. We have to really do a good job of having a tight paint, getting back in transition, loading up and slowing them down.”

But it’s not merely about slowing down the league’s second highest scoring offense at home. The Clippers have the bigger picture in mind. Rivers says they are “fine-tuning” things as they head towards the Playoffs and Griffin said while he’s happy the defense has played better there are still necessary improvements.

“Our individual defense needs to go up an additional notch, but our help defense has been great at times,” Griffin said. “We still have room for improvement in both aspects.”