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Utah’s Johnny Juzang, right, is defended by the Clippers’ Bones Hyland during the second half Friday, April 5, 2024, at Arena. (AP Photo/Etienne Laurent)
Utah’s Johnny Juzang, right, is defended by the Clippers’ Bones Hyland during the second half Friday, April 5, 2024, at Arena. (AP Photo/Etienne Laurent)

Call it swag or mojo, or simply a sense of urgency.  More likely, though, the Clippers’ sudden turnaround has more to do with a renewed commitment to playing defense for 48 minutes that has resulted in their recent 5-1 record.

The Clippers extended a modest two-game winning streak with a lopsided victory against the Utah Jazz on Friday by clamping down on defense, especially when they saw their 38-point lead slip to 22 in the third quarter.

“We locked in,” James Harden said. “Offensively, you want to make shots obviously every play. But if you don’t make them, whatever happens. But defensively, we can control that. I think tonight was a really good step forward in our defense.”

While the Clippers were never truly in danger of losing to the Jazz, the defensive lapse was symptomatic of what led to an erratic February and March, when they couldn’t string together more than two victories. Now, they are looking to add to their recent run of successful outings with a Sunday afternoon game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are third in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a long season,” Harden said. “As much as you want to win games and you want everything to go smooth, it’s not going to happen like that. I think every team goes through that with whatever happens, whatever is going on, whatever happens. So, for us it was just bad timing. But now we got an opportunity. We got what, (five) games left to ramp it up and get better.”

The Clippers (49-28) need to close out the regular season strong to solidify their fourth-place standing in the Western Conference. They hold a two-game advantage over the Dallas Mavericks and a three-game lead over the Phoenix Suns, who are battling for fifth place.

Paul George said the Clippers need to use their past five victories in six games as something of a springboard heading into the final five games.

“We need to build off this,” he said. “Have some consistency.”

The key will be a consistent level of hard-nose defense. The Clippers have held all but one of their past six opponents to 110 points or less, a demonstration of their focus on stopping teams.

“I think our defense has picked up,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s been a lot better, a lot better (with) paying attention to detail, bringing physicality, rebounding the ball well.

“But our defense has been holding us up, so I know offensively we are going to be a good team and we can make shots. We haven’t shot the ball as well as we wanted to, but defensively is what’s carried us over these last six or seven games.”

Asked what changed, Lue said their defensive uptick has been a matter of “just doing it.” He has talked for weeks about their need to play tougher on defense, especially in transition.

“I think we understand the foundation of our defense and what we want to do,” Lue said. “And like I talked about before, just blitzing a lot during those stretches and we spread out, we’re rotating, we’re flying around to start games.

“Teams are making threes, and so we wanted to get good at our blitz package. But then I think I had to call it off the last seven, eight games and just be in our regular drop coverage, switching one through four, let (center Ivica) Zubac being in a deep drop, not up to touch.”

And that allowed the Clippers to play better defense. Lue said employing the blitz is going to be key if the Clippers hope to advance far in the playoffs.

“I think we’re ramping up for the big goal,” Harden said.


When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

Where: Arena

TV/radio: Bally Sports SoCal/570 AM