The new loss ... same as the old loss
In mature democracies, regime change generally proceeds without a hitch. In professional basketball, the process can be considerably bumpier. On Saturday night at Staples Center, the Clippers ushered in the Kim Hughes era with a decisive 98-81 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
"It wasn't a whole lot of fun," Hughes said.
Before the game, Hughes laid down the team's primary offensive imperative, a significant departure from Mike Dunleavy's structured offense.
"I hope we run like crazy," Hughes said. "More transition, early offense attack. More of a free-flowing offense."
In that spirit, Hughes turned the play calling over to point guard Baron Davis, who has been eager to orchestrate a more improvisational offense for the Clippers. The results of the experiment were ugly. After scoring the game's first four points, the Clippers surrendered an 18-0 run to the Spurs and never recovered. They were unable to get good looks at the basket, when they got looks at all. The Clippers converted only eight field goals in the first half but accumulated 15 turnovers -- one more than the 14 Hughes set as the team's maximum goal for the game.
"We really turned the ball over too many times," Hughes said. "We gave them 31 points off turnovers. We were really loose and casual with the ball."
The Clippers' desire to refashion their offense as an up-tempo outfit overlooks a key problem: The roster might lack the personnel to turn that vision into a reality. Hughes conceded that possibility when asked if he had the playmakers and ball handlers to truly execute a running game.
"Perhaps not," Hughes said. "That was somewhat exposed tonight."
Next door in the locker room, the Clippers players were of a different opinion. To a man, they regarded the blowout loss to San Antonio as nothing more than basketball throat-clearing.
"It's going to take some time," Davis said. "We've all been playing a certain way for a year and a half. It's just a matter of time before we all get together and start clicking."
In his new role, Davis was shaky in 28 minutes. He scored eight points and dished out nine assists but turned the ball over eight times. Still, he was in decidedly good spirits after the game and bullish on the path set out by Hughes. After Davis finished his formal session with the media, he ambled over to the other side of the locker room to offer encouragement.
"We're gonna be all right," he said to some teammates. "I'm not trippin'. We just got to stick with each other and change our mentality -- not turn the ball over and get shots. If we can get our turnovers down to 10 or 11 a game, we're going to be all right."
Davis' optimism was echoed by his partner in the backcourt, Eric Gordon.
"We had a tough game today, but we're going to get better," Gordon said. "I can guarantee that. We're just going to get better and better each game."
Gordon had an effective game, though the formula for the sharpshooter was a bit different from his normal fare. He scored 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field, but six of those seven makes came in the painted area. Gordon also converted three "and-ones" on the night.
Chris Kaman also preached patience in regard to the run-and-gun Clippers.
"Give the guys a break," Kaman said. "It's going to be a while until you're going to see some results in that running game. We really haven't had a chance to perfect it, or even come close to perfecting it. It's a work in progress right now."
On a night when the Clippers sought to ignite the fast break, their most successful offense came in half-court sets run through Kaman. He led the Clippers with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field. Encouraged by his new coach to move the ball when confronted by double-teams, Kaman delivered some nice passes, including a pretty kick-out to Gordon in the far corner that led to an old-fashioned three-point play. Kaman also had success facing up, then putting the ball on the deck and driving to the hoop -- something Clippers fan don't see a lot of from Kaman.
"[The Spurs] closed out quick on me," Kaman said. "In some previous games I made some jumpers on them. I tried to drive a little bit."
The Clippers are a team in transition, engaged in a dialectic between the more formal offense of Dunleavy and the run-and-gun style professed by Hughes. But the recipe for this loss was all too familiar: The team coughed up the ball on 21 of its 97 possessions.
Whether you play in transition or move more deliberately in the half court, wins are hard to come by with that kind of carelessness. The stylistic argument is merely academic.
Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA contributor to ESPN.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com and the author of ClipperBlog.
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