NEW ORLEANS -- As Doc Rivers leaned against the wall outside the visitors' locker room at the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday night, he didn't seem overly upset or concerned while he waved at familiar faces passing by before eventually excusing himself to hug his son, Austin.
He probably had every right to feel at least a little of both after watching the Los Angeles Clippers lose to the New Orleans Pelicans 98-96 in a game that apparently wasn't worthy of the Clippers' attention. It was simply a continuation of the way the team has played over the past 10 days, going 2-2 against teams with losing records.
With 10 games left in the regular season and the Clippers still battling for playoff position, the lack of urgency is baffling.
Going up against a 30-40 Pelicans squad playing without Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Brian Roberts and Jason Smith, the Clippers figured they would be handed a win without much effort. After all, that's basically how they squeaked past the lowly Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks the previous two games at home.
"If we had won, we would have taken it, but I think sometimes the basketball gods punish you for messing around and I thought that's what we did," Rivers said. "They kept playing hard. We saw, in my opinion, it felt like we saw all their guys out, no point guards on the floor and that's how we played. The team that plays the hardest for 48 minutes should win and I thought they deserved the win."
The Pelicans certainly deserved to win Wednesday, but the larger issue for the Clippers is why they let it happen. Why did a team destined for the lottery play harder than a team that should be fighting for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs?
Did Rivers try to wake up his team at halftime and remind them they were actually playing a game?
"I tried," Rivers said. "I wasn't very successful. In the second half, I thought we did a great job. Our defense lifted and was great, but to me, when you should beat a team and when they have all these guys out and they've been struggling, you should win the game. And that's not putting them down, but you should [win].
"When you turn a team on and you're on the road, you can't turn them back off, at least we're not that good to do that, but I thought we turned a lot of their guys on and now at the end, we're trying desperately to turn them off, you can't. These are pro players. There are a lot of good lessons for us out of this and hopefully we learned them."
It was a historically bad game for Chris Paul, who went 0-for-12 from the field, which is the worst shooting night in Clippers history, moving him past previous 0-for-11 shooting performances from Quentin Richardson and Lamond Murray. After having his name attached to so many great records since coming to the Clippers, Paul wasn't worried about having his name next to a dubious one.
"I got to keep shooting and being aggressive," Paul said. "At this point it's just about winning. If I go 0-for-15 or 0-for-20 and we win, I couldn't care less. Like I always said in the past, it's more than this game. It's about playing the right way going into the playoffs."
No one in the Clippers' locker room was surprised by the loss. They saw it coming over the past week. Their 11-game winning streak was nice, but there were plenty of blemishes in their defense that weren't magnified against lesser teams or when their offense simply took over. They were 2-2 in their previous four games but could have easily been 0-4. They could just as easily fall from the No. 3 to the No. 4 seed in the West if they don't trust their system -- and one another -- as they did earlier in the season.
"Our defense needs to be better," Paul said. "Even during the streak there were times where we'd win a game and our defense wasn't great, but right now we're not winning so there's more of a light on it. Luckily we have some games to get better."
As badly as the Clippers played, they had a chance to win at the end, but Blake Griffin missed a potential tying free throw with 9.4 seconds left and Jamal Crawford, who had 31 points off the bench, missed a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. After the game, most of the Clippers' players thought a loss might serve them better than squeaking out another win while continuing to play poorly.
"I personally felt this one coming," Matt Barnes said. "I don't think we've been playing well of late. We've been beating bad teams. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call and hopefully it doesn't take much. ... I just think we got to lock in. This is the NBA and when you don't show up to play anybody can beat you. People want to beat us. People aren't scared of us, they want to beat us. We have to come in as a team with a more dog mentality and be ready to go from here."
The fact the Clippers still need a wake-up call at this point in the season didn't sit well with Griffin, who scored at least 20 points for a franchise-record 30th straight game. After back-to-back early exits in the playoffs, Griffin is the first to admit the Clippers are not yet in a position to look past any opponent or sleepwalk through any stretch of the season.
"Yeah, there is a little bit of concern, just our sense of urgency," Griffin said. "We knew coming in to this game how we played the last two games and we didn't do anything about it. That's a little disturbing, but at the same time this is the NBA and the best thing about that is that you get another chance to prove yourself."