LOS ANGELES (AP) – Vinny Del Negro understands that young players often need time before they can succeed in the NBA, but that hasn’t made the first 10 games any easier to watch for the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-year coach.
Los Angeles tries to avoid its worst start in 12 seasons Monday night when it hosts the New Jersey Nets, who have dropped 23 straight on the road to Western Conference opponents.
Del Negro’s hiring hasn’t made a difference so far for the Clippers, who are 1-9 for the second time in three seasons. Injuries to Chris Kaman, Baron Davis and Eric Gordon have forced him to use five different starting lineups already.
Gordon returned from a two-game absence and scored a season-high 28 points, while rookies Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu started as the Clippers dropped their fifth in a row Friday, 113-107 in overtime to Detroit.
Griffin had 18 points and a season-high 18 rebounds – his fifth double-double – while Bledsoe had a season-best 18 points with five assists and six boards. Despite the encouraging signs, Los Angeles has lost three times by seven points or fewer during its slide, two of those coming in overtime.
“Young guys have to go through the experience,” Del Negro said. “You can’t shortcut it. It’s difficult at times, but you’ve got to keep your head up, keep moving forward and work at it. Hopefully we get some guys back healthy with more experience and get over the hump here. We’ve had a tough start.”
Nets coach Avery Johnson, Del Negro’s teammate in San Antonio from 1994-98, has also been dealing with injuries and close losses.
New Jersey (3-6) lost for the sixth time in seven games Saturday, 91-90 to Orlando. The Nets played without swingman Terrence Williams (abdominal strain) for a third straight game and forward Kris Humphries made his second consecutive start in place of Troy Murphy, who was limited to eight minutes with a sore foot.
Three of the Nets’ last five defeats have been by two points or fewer.
Despite scoring 26 points with eight assists and a season-high six rebounds, point guard Devin Harris shouldered some of the blame for Saturday’s loss. He missed two free throws with 2:03 remaining and had a layup spin out soon after.
“Just one of things, I make those and maybe it’s a different game,” Harris said.
Opening a four-game trip, New Jersey will try to snap a six-game road skid to the Clippers. The Nets haven’t beaten a West team since defeating Memphis on Jan. 24, 2009.
The Nets can also send Los Angeles to its worst start since it opened a 0-17 – which tied the then-NBA record – in 1998-99. New Jersey broke that mark last season when it started with a league-record 18 defeats.
With Kaman expected to be out at least two more weeks, Nets center Brook Lopez will likely be matched up with Griffin, who is scoring 16.6 points per game with 10.9 boards.
Davis is not expected to return until around Thanksgiving, so it will likely be up to Bledsoe to contain Harris, who has averaged 25.0 points and 7.7 assists in the last three contests.
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