LOS ANGELES (AP) - More than a month into the season, the injury-riddled Los Angeles Clippers have just five wins and one of the NBA’s most inexperienced lineups.
The good news is they have Blake Griffin, who is building a strong case for the rookie of the year award with dunks that have become regular YouTube highlights. Griffin and second-year pro Eric Gordon have carried the Clippers, making the future seem more promising than the present.
Three of the team’s wins have come against Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Western Conference-leading San Antonio. The other two were against Sacramento, a team with the third-worst record in the league.
“Their record is bad because the league is really tough and they’re inexperienced,” Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said, “but if you can beat San Antonio, you can beat anybody.”
On the road, the Clippers are 0-10.
Having piled up 18 losses _ most in the league _ they’re already in a deep hole in the standings and it’s not even January.
“You get judged by wins and losses,” first-year coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Am I happy where we’re at? No. After a while, the talk gets a little stale. No one enjoys losing, especially me.”
The Clippers led the Los Angeles Lakers by 12 points in the third quarter before losing to the two-time defending NBA champions 87-86 on Wednesday. Two nights earlier, they led the Kings by 16 points in the fourth quarter before hanging on to win 98-91. Last weekend, they trailed Portland by 22 points and rallied before losing 100-91.
“We just haven’t been able to get it together yet,” injured center Chris Kaman said. “We’re so young and learning every game.”
Griffin has lived up to his hype. He’s the league’s leading rookie scorer and rebounder, and has had 16 double-doubles. Gordon is averaging a career-high 24.3 points, putting him among the league’s top 10, and has scored 20 or more points in 10 consecutive games.
“He’s a tremendous kid,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom said of Gordon, his teammate on the U.S. national team last summer. “He’s quiet and his game does the talking for him. He knows how to play the game and he’s got a great future. He was raised the right way when it comes to basketball.”
Griffin and Gordon have been the bright spot while injuries have derailed Kaman, Baron Davis and Randy Foye. That’s forced Del Negro to start a 20-something lineup for nine consecutive games, giving big minutes and valuable experience to rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu, along with DeAndre Jordan.
“It makes it harder for us to win games because of inexperience and mistakes,” Del Negro said. “We have a lot of teaching and developing to do. I don’t use that as an excuse. I knew it was a difficult situation (coming in).”
Griffin is technically a rookie, too, having missed all of last season with a knee injury after being selected No. 1 in the 2009 draft. But no less an expert than Lakers coach Phil Jackson doesn’t consider him one.
“He might be a little like a young (Amare) Stoudamire,” Jackson said, citing Griffin’s physical power and ability to finish around the basket.
Griffin had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Lakers.
“He’s terrific,” Kobe Bryant said. “I’d like to see him trust his shot more because he’s a good shooter. Just let that ball fly and he’s going to be ever tougher to defend.”
Davis returned last Sunday against Portland after missing 14 games because of a cyst behind his left knee. He came into training camp out of shape and Del Negro is bringing him off the bench until he fully regains his conditioning.
Meanwhile, it’ll be up to the youngsters to scratch out more wins.
“We’re getting better, we’re learning,” Griffin said. “The important thing is to put what we’ve learned to use every game.”
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