The story that dominated the news conferences before and after the game, however, was a report published by NBA.com on Monday that questioned the Clippers’ locker-room chemistry. According to the report, there is some discord among the Clippers players.
“Is it personnel, or is it personal? Here's the unvarnished opinion of someone who knows that team well: ‘They don't like each other.’ FWIW,” the report stated.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, claiming to have heard about the report just minutes before his pregame news conference, said he has yet to see or hear of any friction in the team’s locker room.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rivers said. “But I don’t get that sense.”
When asked if he would be concerned if any friction were to emerge later on in the season, Rivers said he wouldn’t be worried.
“Honestly, I think you [guys] know me better,” Rivers said. “I don’t care what anyone outside the locker room thinks, anyway. I really don’t. Because it’s not going to matter.”
Reports of chemistry issues generally appear when a team is struggling to meet expectations or just continuously losing, as personalities clash, blame is dealt, and minor flaws become too glaring to gloss over.
The Clippers, who have gone just 6-6 over their last 12 games, have definitely underperformed on their sky-high expectations this season, as many saw them as co-favorites to finish with the best record and/or win the Western Conference. As it currently stands, they are 22-11, good for sixth place in the ever-competitive West standings.
Los Angeles has struggled against playoff-caliber competition this season, going just 7-9 against current playoff teams in both conferences, while also being unable to blow out inferior competition, grinding out unnecessarily close games against sub.-500 teams.
“I’m not getting into all of this stuff,” Rivers said when asked the team’s chemistry issues for a second time. “I’ve had teams that have won that got along. I’ve had teams that have won that hadn’t got along. That’s why it doesn’t matter. Really, it’s so silly. To me, whenever I hear stuff from outside of us, I usually don’t make any comment on it because it gives people something to write about. So go write about it, is what I’m saying.”
Superstar point guard Chris Paul, who had an off game against the Knicks (5 points on 2-of-11 shooting, 3 rebounds, 8 assists), scoffed at the notion that he and his teammates don’t get along.
“I didn’t see that report,” Paul said. “I didn’t know what you were about to say. You see us in the locker room. We’re fine.”
Ever since Paul arrived in December of 2011, the Clippers have a promoted a family-like atmosphere in their locker room, with several players -- including Paul -- consistently bringing their children around.
This summer, most of the team traveled to Seattle for guard Jamal Crawford’s wedding, and several players participated in Matt Barnes’ charity football game with Snoop Dogg in Los Angeles. During media day and training camp, Paul, Barnes and Crawford, among others, raved about how close-knit this group was.
Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who has dealt with his ongoing team-chemistry issues in New York’s locker room, has plenty of experience with success despite locker-room drama, winning three straight championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal during their infamous feud.
“I think it depends on the team,” Fisher said. “Some teams can handle a little bit of discord and guys not getting along. Other teams can’t. Sometimes you don’t find that out until it happens.”
If a team is going through a rough patch, and it starts bleeding into on- and off-court interactions, does Fisher have any advice?
“Any team that’s experiencing those things, you just have to keep working hard, guys individually have to take their responsibility and accountability for what’s going on, and [you have to] just keep working,” Fisher said.
“Things constantly change in this business. As long as you keep focus on getting better, staying positive, eventually it’ll come.”