LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers aren't a good 3-point defensive team. In fact, they're downright awful.
Aside from exciting lob dunks, it may actually be one of the more consistent areas of this team and could ultimately be the biggest reason they don't advance further in the playoffs.
The Clippers rank 25th in the NBA in defending the 3-point shot with opponents making 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. In the Clippers' 20 losses this season, opponents have made 46.7 percent of their 3-point attempts; in their past seven losses, teams are hitting a staggering 49.3 percent.
"We have to do a better job in our transition defense," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We have to have more of a sense of urgency. We worked on it today a lot. Hopefully it will translate. We know we have to get better at it. Not turning the ball over helps, and we have to get our turnovers down and control the glass."
It all sounds good in theory, but Del Negro has talked about improving the Clippers' 3-point defense since November, and with 18 games left in the season, it doesn't seem as though they are making much progress.
In their 107-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, the Nuggets hit 11 of 23 3-pointers. The Nuggets are not even a particularly good 3-point shooting team, ranking 26th in 3-point field goal percentage, but they looked unstoppable against the Clippers from the outside.
"Our 3-point defense has been terrible," Chris Paul told reporters after the game. "All their 3s were wide-open. It's not a great 3-point shooting team, but tonight they were lights-out."
The biggest problem for the Clippers once the playoffs start is they likely will face teams that, unlike the Nuggets, are good at shooting 3-pointers. Golden State and Oklahoma City are the top two 3-point-shooting teams in the league, and it's no accident that the Clippers are 1-6 against those two teams this season.
Miami and San Antonio, whom the Clippers could also face in the playoffs if they advance that far, round out the top four 3-point-shooting teams in the league. The Clippers recently lost to both of them by an average of 24 points, falling behind by at least 32 points in the second half.
"It all concerns me," Del Negro said. "People look at things we're not doing great at, but we're doing a lot of things really well, too. We'll try to continually do those. It's hard to do everything really well on a consistent basis, so you have to pick your spots, but we have to do better with our 3-point defense. It's a never-ending process. When we guard the 3-point ball well, it obviously helps us in a lot of other areas."
Regardless of all the things the Clippers do well, as Del Negro mentioned, guarding the perimeter has been one of the team's biggest Achilles' heels. It needs to be shored up before the playoffs begin if the Clippers have any hope of advancing past the second round, or even the first round, depending on who they're matched up against.
"We have to do a better job of running teams off the line and making them move the ball around, rather than letting them lacing it up and shooting that high a percentage," Jamal Crawford said. "That's crazy. They're shooting close to 50 percent. That's unbelievable. That's a weapon that we have to take out. We want them to take tough off-the-dribble shots and against-the-clock shots. We have to do a better job of that."
Most of the players seem to think effort is the biggest problem with the Clippers' 3-point defense. They know statistically, the 3-pointer is a low-percentage shot, so time after time they will let players shoot them wide-open or not close out as hard as they should. They spent a good portion of Saturday's two-hour practice working on defending the perimeter and staying with their man even if he's beyond the arc.
"We have to do a better job of making second and third effort on plays," Chauncey Billups said. "As opposed to getting broken down on the pick-and-roll and everyone coming to help on the drive. When they kick it out, we have to make another effort to go and contest the shot. I think that would make a difference. We've talked about those things over the last day or so. I think we'll get better."
With 18 games left in the season and 3-point-shooting teams like Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio possibly waiting for them in the playoffs, the Clippers had better hope so.