Clippers coach Doc Rivers was still raving about the defensive effort the Clippers gave in their 112-91 victory over Denver on Saturday.
But even more impressive to Rivers was it represented the fourth consecutive games the Clippers held an opponent to fewer than 100 points in a game.
“I do like the trend,” Rivers said. “I think we’ve been trending that way for a while defensively and it’s nice. My belief is you can play defense every night, offense you can try to play every night but it might not work out for you. You can miss open shots and just have a bad night, but your defense should always be there. At least the effort.”
It’s not just at one end of the court, either. The Clippers limited Denver to six fastbreak points in addition to the Nuggets’ 35.7 percent shooting from the field.
“We’ve had the effort in my opinion all year we just weren’t in the right places all year and now we’re starting to get to the right places, the right spaces, and our talk defensively has been phenomenal. Our weak side defense has been improving.
“Last night was one of our better nights because Denver runs. Against them that saying a lot . We’re starting to obey our rules, which is nice.”
Opponents are noticing too. It didn’t surprise Minnesota coach Rick Adelman.
“They certainly had the tools to do that, they had the size with (DeAndre) Jordan, and they’re active, and Chris (Paul) has always been one of the better point guards defensively too. It’s just something that as they play more under Doc, they’ll continue to get better defensively.”
Chris Paul sat down, took a glance at the stat sheet and shook his head.
The line that followed DeAndre Jordan’s name held his gaze.
“Outstanding,” Paul said. “He was no question the MVP of this game tonight. We don’t win this game without his energy.”
Jordan had 14 points, 20 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, played 43 minutes and made all six of his shots as the Clippers negotiated their way through a flat game to score a 108-95 victory over New Orleans Wednesday at Staples Center.
“We were a little sluggish tonight,” Paul said. “You would have expected that in the Spurs game (Monday night) but it caught up with us tonight. You’ve got to push through.
“DJ kept telling us, ‘Come on, Come on.’ And we fed off it. I love what DJ’s doing. He’s the cornerstone of our defense, he rolls, he gets everybody open on the offensive end. I tell you, we should be seeing him in New Orleans come February if he keeps playing like that.”
That would be for an All-Star appearance for the 6-foot-11 center who was challenged to become a contender for Defensive Player of the Year by Coach Doc Rivers before the season started.
“Doc gave me a challenge early on in the summer, it’s something I’ve embraced and it’s fun to take on that challenge that he gave me,” Jordan said. “Our assistant coaches are great teachers and I’m learning every day and every game and I’m trying to improve.
“I’m just playing the role he wants me to play. I’m trying to be the best defender I can be for our team. If that happens then it happens but I’m taking on the challenge. It’s definitely a goal of mine (the top defensive player). I don’t want to win it just one time, I want to win it multiple times and it’s a process, and I’m taking my steps to become a better defensive player.”
Blake Griffin had 21 points and 10 rebounds and the Clippers (18-9) didn’t trail after the middle of the first quarter as they won for the 10th time in 12 home games and stretched their modest winning streak to three. It wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed.
“I was telling somebody in the locker room I was tired like two minutes into the game,” Griffin said. “I don’t know why, I guess it’s kind of that lag. But it was a good win for us and I was proud of the way we gutted it out.”
They picked up defensively where they left off against the Spurs, limiting the Pelicans (11-13) to 39.8 percent shooting from the floor. The Clippers led by as many as 19 points.
“We’ve leaned on our defense at times when we needed it and we’ve allowed our defense to get us into our offense and get our offense going,” Griffin said. “There was a stretch tonight where it seemed like we kind of missed a lot of shots in a row, but we stayed in the game and maintained our lead because of our defense.”
Jared Dudley had 20 points, Jamal Crawford added 17 and the Clippers got a combined 24 from Darren Collison and Wille Green off the bench. All of that meant a relatively quiet night from Chris Paul, who had 12 points and 11 assists. The Clippers never let the Pelicans to creep back into the game after they took over.
“We played pretty flat and maybe this was the day that the (seven-game) trip caught up with us,” Rivers said. “I thought DJ just single-handedly kept us in with his defense and his rebounding and everything else.
“I think he understands his role to the point where he accepts it and loves it. He’s become a star in his role and we need him to be a shot blocker, rebounder and a defender. What he’s shown is he’s still going to score by doing all that stuff and he got 14 points because of it.
Rivers had the rare opportunity to coach against his son, Austin, for the second time in their NBA careers.
“I actually didn’t like it,” Doc Rivers said. “Going against your own son, it’s no fun for you. When he has the ball as a parent you’re like ‘Don’t get hurt, don’t make a mistake, but turn the ball over.’ It’s tough.
“I don’t know what parent is going to cheer against his own kid.”
The Pelicans also pulled a bit of a surprise by activating Anthony Davis before the game. The star forward was expected to be out for a couple more weeks with a broken hand, but the club activated him just before tip-off.
In addition, guard Tyreke Evans also played. Evans was listed as day-to-day with a left ankle sprain. Neither started, but Davis had 24 points and 12 rebounds. He had missed seven games.
Ryan Anderson had 17 points and Jrue Holiday added 13 points for New Orleans.
Wednesday was the second time that Rivers coached against his son, Austin. He did it once last year in Boston and a night he thought he’d enjoy turned into a bit of torture.
He had a new attitude this time around.
“Well, I tell him to turn it over. To foul,” Rivers said with a laugh. “We talk in parameters on the day of. I’m not good at it. We haven’t practiced it enough. I try not to talk to him long. Like three minutes today. I tried to time my call right when I thought he was sleeping. Other than that, we’ll spend time after the game.
“I think it’s harder for me. I think it’s easy for him. Every son wants to beat their dad. He’s already one of the most competitive human beings I’ve met anywhere. I don’t think this is hard for him at all. I think it’s strange for him when he sees me over there.”
Rivers, though, said he would jump at the chance to use any inside knowledge to stop Austin and help the Clippers.
“Absolutely. Yeah, without hesitation,” he said. “I think it was (Rejon) Rondo last year asked the question. We’re about to go out and he goes, ‘I have one question for you, Coach. We’re up two, your son has the ball, he shoots a 3 with no time left. What’s your thoughts when the ball’s in the air?’
“So the whole team’s looking at me and I said ‘Win-win.’ I’m winning either way.”
After a slow start, the Clippers’ team defense has sneaked into a modest 12 th place in the league in terms of points allowed. Early in the season, the Clippers were close to being bottom dwellers.
“Just time,” Rivers said when asked what the reason was for the climb. “I was confident early on that our defense would come around. You could see it, then I kept saying that you know we’re (close).
“Now you can see the consistency in it and guys know now when they make a mistake, they know the mistake. That’s the next step. We have another level and that’s the next step.”
Rivers credits the help defense from forward Blake Griffin for one of the leaps the Clippers have made.
“A lot of people believe showing (help) is enough. We don’t,” Rivers said. “We believe the angle of the show on defense on pick-and-rolls (is important). His show angles the other night were the example of how far we’ve come. He was able to turn (Tony) Parker up the floor and get back to his guy underneath the basket over and over again.”
Matt Barnes, who last played for the Clippers on Nov. 18, was cleared medically and in uniform fro Wednesday’s game against New Orleans.
Nearly a month after undergoing a procedure to repair a torn retina in his left eye, Barnes was ready to don some protective goggles to get back into a game, though Coach Doc Rivers wasn’t planning on having him in Wednesday’s game.
“Hate ’em. I don’t like anything on my face,” Barnes said of the goggles, which he’ll have to wear for about two weeks. “It’ll be something to work through, but anything to get back on the court.”
Barnes, naturally had to endure some good-natured ribbing about the goggles from his teammates.
“It’s just good to be back,” he said. “I’ve been out of the mix for almost four weeks now so whatever they can dish I can take . . . but I’d wear anything just to get on the court.”
Rivers hopes to take advantage of two days off to get Barnes, who had missed 15 games entering Wednesday’s game, going again.
“He was allowed to run (only) like three or four days ago,” Rivers said. “We have back-to-back practice days coming up so I’m hoping to be able to use him in practice then get him back on the floor.”
The Clippers confirmed the worst-kept secret in the league and signed forward Stephen Jackson on Tuesday night. They just sent their press release.
Jackson, 35, spent the 2012-13 season with San Antonio and played in 55 games. The 13-year veteran has averaged 15.3 points for his career.
Presumably, he will be in uniform Wednesday night in Boston when the Clippers face the Celtics.