Doc Rivers, Clippers ‘expect better’ after 2-2 road trip

The Clippers lost for the second time in three games on Wednesday, but for just the third time in their past 13, if you slice it more generously.

Two of the three most recent losses – the collapse in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20 and Wednesday’s butt-kicking, as Coach Doc Rivers described it, in Memphis – occurred on the final game of a trip.

In his conversation with reporters following the 96-86 loss to the Grizzlies, Rivers implied that perhaps the result was understandable, though not acceptable. Not for a 16-8 Clippers team that believes, when it plays in character, it can be really good.

“It was a good road trip,” Rivers said. “We are 2-2 … but I was hoping for more. I think I always am. If you look at the big picture, you will take a .500 road trip, but you want better. As a team, we have to expect better. We don’t want to be .500 on the road, we want to be better on the road trips.

“We’ve got another one coming up, let’s see if we can get it.”

The Clippers will do a lot of coming and going in the next few games: They’ll host Miami on Saturday at Staples Center and then travel to Phoenix for a game Monday. The next night, they’re home for a matchup with the Toronto Raptors before hitting the road for a pair against San Antonio (Dec. 13) and Oklahoma City (Dec. 15). After that, a three-game homestand awaits.

PICKING THEM OFF

Marcin Gortat’s role: Set picks.

It’s part of the action that players definitely feel and fans often overlook. So for the past three seasons, the NBA has sought to measure effective screening by tracking “screen assists,” or screens “for a teammate that directly lead to a made field goal by that teammate” as part of the collection of “hustle stats” at NBA.com/stats.

As a member of the Washington Wizards, Gortat led the league two seasons ago and finished fourth last season, averaging 6.2 and 4.5 screen assists per game, respectively. A 2017 article about that on NBA.com mentioned the volume of screens set by Gortat helped his ranking: “Nobody sets more screens (than) Gortat. Nobody plays more games than Gortat, either.”

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Gortat didn’t miss a game during either of those seasons and averaged more than 31 minutes per game in both.

This season, despite playing only 17.4 minutes per game, Gortat remains among the league’s most effective and prolific pick-setters. He’s averaging 4.2 screen assists per game (which has translated to 9.1 points per game for his teammates).

That’s 10th-most in the category, which otherwise is populated by players averaging significantly more minutes than Gortat. He’s one of only two men in the top 20 playing fewer than 24 minutes per game (at No. 20, Boston’s Aron Baynes is averaging 3.1 screen assists in 15.2 minutes).

Rivers recognized what a weapon he had in Gortat – aka the “Polish Hammer” – during the preseason, when he compared him with Kevin Garnett, whose screen assists as a member of Rivers’ Boston Celtics teams weren’t tallied by the league but were appreciated by his coach.

“It’s funny, you know a pick-setter when you see one and you don’t notice it until you have one,” Rivers said. “(Gortat) is great at that art. Garnett was phenomenal at it. Kevin was in the league 100 years and you never noticed it, and then when he’s on your team you realize, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s amazing.’

“Marcin does a great job of that and we need him to keep doing that.”

Gortat has happily obliged. As he put it recently when asked about Tobias Harris’ high-percentage shooting this season: “Every time I set a screen, he’s gonna be pretty much butt-naked open.”

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