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Clippers looking to recapture underdog mentality

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — After allowing a total of 172 points in their last two home games, the LA Clippers started a rare two-day practice stretch on Wednesday trying to find their defense and rediscover some of that underdog grinding mentality they had a season ago.

The Clippers are 26-12 despite shuffling injured players in and out and having little to no practice time. Still, a few of the players from last season’s core that overachieved its way into the playoffs want to see the team play as hungry as it did last season.

“I think we just got to get used to understanding what we represent to other teams around the league,” reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams said of the Clippers’ contending status now. “We’ve dropped some games because of that, because we went into some games without the same mindset (from last season) and not giving ourselves an opportunity to win. So I think we got to develop some of that (mentality) back and just get back to the grind.”

“… We didn’t expect to go undefeated, you know?” Williams also added. “So it’s not like we’re ringing no alarm or anything.”

Doc Rivers and Paul George say the Clippers haven’t played their best or as locked in as they were on Christmas when they beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 111-106. After the Clippers were hammered by the Memphis Grizzlies, 140-114, on Saturday at home, Montrezl Harrell harped on a notion that Rivers had repeatedly said to the media about how the Clippers are not a great team yet and people needed to stop saying that.

“Yeah, we haven’t won anything, so that’s pretty much the truth,” Williams said when asked about Harrell’s comments from Saturday. “Great teams have championships. We don’t have one, so I agree with that.”

The Clippers rebounded with a 135-132 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday at home but they surrendered 45 points in the first quarter to the Knicks. The Clippers were off on Monday and Tuesday to decompress and rest before focusing on defense in practice on Wednesday.

Last season, the Clippers went 48-34 despite trading their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, before the trade deadline. They still made the playoffs and lost in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the first round. The season was considered a success by many because the Clippers far exceeded expectations and overachieved.

But Rivers pushed back hard on that sentiment last weekend.

“What I know about last year, we were the eighth seed, we were 19th in defense,” Rivers argued. “And we lost in the first round. And I just will reject that that was such a great year. … We did some good things, but it wasn’t good enough.”

“I hate using that as a benchmark,” he added. “… It’s frustrating as hell to me. Like everyone brings it up. It’s not a benchmark. That’s a losing organization crap.”

The players who were on that team last season don’t use that record and playoff appearance as a measuring stick. But they do remember the hungry attitude and grinding mentality they had a year ago and hope they can rediscover some of that underdog mentality again in 2020.

“We got two superstars on our team now,” JaMychal Green said. “It seems everybody we play has like a target on our back and give us their all. It’s just a different feel to the game once we come into it.”

“Defensively, just got to get back to our identity, playing hard,” Green added. “We haven’t been playing hard defensively, pick and rolls have been a little bad, close outs have been a little bad. We are just not ourselves. We are just trying to get back to us.”

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