LOS ANGELES -- Ask Chris Paul what worries him most about his team come playoff time and he'll talk about the Clippers' half-court offense, or lack thereof. Too often, Paul has seen the Clippers stall in the half-court against teams like Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We're not the best half-court team," Paul said Sunday after losing to Oklahoma City. "We're great when we're getting stops and getting out in transition. We're working on it. We just got to keep getting better at it. We're good in the half court but obviously we're better in transition. We need our defense to dictate our offense."
There's no question the Clippers are at their best when they are creating turnovers on defense and scoring in transition, with Paul finding a streaking Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan and hitting them above the rim.
Those opportunities are harder to come by in more deliberate, physical playoff games, of course, and to advance out of the first round the Clippers will need to score off set plays as proficiently as they do on "Lob City" transitions.
"We just need to keep tightening up things such as ball movement, spacing, hard cuts, different reads off of different types of defenses and just working through it," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Now we have Chauncey [Billups] and Grant [Hill] back, just getting everyone on the same page and being efficient."
Some of that efficiency comes with familiarity and playing together for an extended period of time. That hasn't always been the case for the Clippers, who missed Billups and Hill for most of the season and are playing with seven new players this season.
The Heat, Spurs and Thunder, who have had relatively stable rotations this season, and are firm in their offensive philosophies, are the top three teams in the league in points per play in the half-court offense. The Heat (.976) rank first, the Spurs (.973) second and the Thunder (.958) third. The Clippers are seventh (.916).
"Teams like San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami have been together a while," Jamal Crawford said. "You can tell. They went through their lumps early but you know that's where they want to go and what they want to do. We feel we're a good team as well so we shouldn't have any problems."
The Clippers worked on their half-court offense during Tuesday's practice and will continue making it a focal point as the playoffs approach.
"We have to continue working on it," Crawford said. "Chris is our leader and he has the ball in his hands most of the time. If he says it, we're riding with him. We're going to get better at it and continue figuring out what we can do to help him and him help us. In the playoffs, the games slow down a lot and we feel we have the best floor general out there."
While Paul may be the best point guard in the league, he hasn't always been able to get the offense cranked up against the league's elite teams, as evidenced by recent losses to the Spurs, Heat and Thunder. The Clippers average 15.5 fastbreak points per game, eighth-best in the league, but managed just 13 fastbreak points against San Antonio, and only five against Miami and seven against Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, their points per play in half-court possessions was below their season average against both San Antonio (.840) and Miami (.894), and while thanks to a late-game rally fueled by three-point shooting they managed .930 ppp against Oklahoma City, it was too little too late.
"We need to do a better job of executing in these bigger games," Griffin said. "Against the Heat and Spurs, they completely killed us, and Oklahoma City did through three quarters. So we need to do a better job of defensively and offensively, coming together and playing better together because these are the teams we’re going to have to beat to advance in the playoffs."
With 20 games left, beginning Wednesday against Milwaukee, they'd better come together on this soon.
"I think we’re capable of it," Griffin said. "We've shown that we're capable of it, but we need to do a better job through four quarters and not just one or two or even three quarters."