The atmosphere in Clipper Land has been upbeat lately, but Chris Paul doesn’t want the team to lose focus or read too deeply into their recent success.
“We’ve won a few games, but we’re not on a roll,” said Paul to a scrum of reporters after Friday’s practice. “Right now, it seems like our season has consisted of streaks. A couple good ones and a couple bad ones. We’ve won four games (in a row), but we still have a lot of work to do.”
When asked how to avoid particular pitfalls at this point in the season, Paul’s remedy was simple.
“That you never get too high. That’s the whole exciting part of an NBA season. It has its ups and downs. You can never get too high or never get too low.”
Despite the starting lineup’s success in recent games, they’ve been caught off guard a handful of times this season, seemingly relying on their bench to pick them up with its scrappy energy and defensive intensity.
One of the keys, in Paul’s eyes, is for him to assert himself earlier in games and for the starters to bring the same level of energy the bench does.
The Clippers are a stellar 5-1 in nationally televised games, and a mediocre 7-5 in all other matchups. That stark contrast has been one of the more perplexing developments in this young season.
Paul claims he’s noticed the difference in the Clippers’ performance against good teams and against sub-.500 teams, but he can’t pinpoint why. He made sure to point out, though, that all of those games were still close.
“Good teams don’t lose two, three games in a row,” said Paul. “When you’re a true winning team, you respect your opponent every night, no matter what their record is.”
According to Paul, teams always give their best effort when playing in L.A. The bright lights, media attention and city life will do that to guys.
In fact, he used to do it too.
“I remember when I played on another team (New Orleans Hornets), we would come to L.A. maybe once or twice a year. This is a big stage and everybody wants to perform.
“Hell, half the NBA is from L.A.,” joked Paul. “I thought about that last year. It seemed like every night I was playing against a guy who was from L.A. and they’re whole family is here and they want to play well in front of us. That comes with it too.”
Besides refining their play against subpar teams, Paul feels the Clippers have a laundry list of improvements that need to be made: rebounding, execution, taking care of the ball and remaining focused for 48 minutes each game chief among them.
One issue, Paul will admit, is that he sometimes looks to pass too much early on. Per-36 minutes, he averages his least amount of points in the first quarter (10.4 PPG). It’s not even close compared to the second quarter (22.5 PPG), third quarter (15.8 PPG) fourth quarter (25.7 PPG) and even overtime (14.4 PPG).
Although he’s unanimously considered the best point guard in the league and is averaging a tidy 16.1 points, 9.7 assists and 2.7 steals — all, mind you, while shooting an impressive 48.6 percent from the field — his normal level of aggression appears to have tempered. Per-36 minutes, he’s averaging the third-fewest field goal attempts (12.5) and free throw attempts (4.7) of his eight-year career.
“I always try to get everybody involved. I have the ball in my hands so much that I always know I have the opportunity to score,” said Paul. “At times, we do play better if I’m aggressive early.”
Paul said he watches film “all day, every day,” even back to his first and second seasons with the soon-to-be-Pelicans. He’s his own harshest critic, and no mistake goes unnoticed.
“There’s this website where I can go watch every shot I’ve made in the NBA. That’s all I do on the road,” said Paul. “I watch all my shots made, missed, turnovers, layups, assists, everything.”
It doesn’t take a genius to notice how Paul’s game has changed over the years. As a younger player, he was a bit more explosive and had a quicker first step. Now, though, he may not be as athletic, but he’s a better leader and shooter, is more in control and is more efficient.
“It’s funny to me. We all grow, your body changes. There’s things that I did when I was younger and I look and I’ll be like, ‘Man, why don’t I do that anymore?’ It’s just how your game changes.”