CLIPPERS CLOSE THE BOOK ON A TOUGH MARCH

The Clippers didn’t so much drag themselves to the finish line as they sprinted through it.

The most taxing month in NBA history came to a close Friday, a grueling, unforgiving 20-game in 31-night March marathon that at various points had their playoff hopes fading and their coaches’ job in jeopardy.

But as they blew past March into April Saturday they did so with a convincing 105-96 win over the Utah Jazz to complete their first five-game winning streak in more than five years.

The impressive push over the last week was the ideal antidote for the Clippers tired legs and weary minds. And as March turns into April they are beginning to see an end-game to this crazy regular season.

That, coupled with a tense playoff race in which only four games separates the third seed from missing the playoffs altogether is the carrot the Clippers hope pulls their exhausted bodies through the final 14 games of the season.

Nine of the 14 are on the road, with four coming on the second night of back-to-backs.

“It should,” said Clippers guard Chris Paul. “As you can see the Western Conference is bunched together and right now all wins are valuable.”

With the Jazz victory being no less impactful then any that might follow.

The Clippers were playing their fifth game in six nights and second in the last two. And of course, their 20th in the last 31 days.

“This was one of those games you just had to find a way,” Paul said. “Playing last night and having the day just to sit around and chill. I was talking to Chauncey (Billups) and I was like man, you could tell this was number 20. But you have to figure out a way to win.”

Clippers forward Blake Griffin agrees.

“You could definitely feel it,” Griffin said. “The road trip. Coming back and playing however many back-to-backs we played then three straight, you could definitely feel it. It was taxing.”

Paul finished with 26 points while Blake Griffin added 24 points and seven rebounds.

Randy Foye added 17 points and Nick Young had 13 off the bench as the Clippers finished with their first five-game winning streak since November, 2006.

The Clippers finished the month with an 11-9 record.

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SOME THOUGHTS FROM CLIPPERS WIN

It’s sometimes difficult to figure out just how badly the Clippers want this.

They let a wounded, fractured Portland Trail Blazers team minus All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge troll into Staples Center Friday and push them to the brink before pulling out razor-thin 98-97 victory.

They allowed a team with fading playoff hopes and missing All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge drop a 15-0 run on them in the second quarter and a 19-11 run in the fourth quarter to force the Clippers to play catch-up all night.

But amid a game-long struggle they found a way, mapping out a path to a win they had to have.

Chris Paul, probing in the closing seconds to find an advantageous matchup, got singled up with Portland forward J.J. Hickson and dove to the basket to bank in a tough one-handed layup in with five seconds remaining to put the Clippers up 98-87.

On the other end the Clippers collapsed on Portland guard Wesley Matthews, forcing him into a desperate heave and held on for the victory.

Paul finished with 20 points and 14 assists, no points bigger than his last two in which Hickson rotated to him off a pick and roll immediately blew past him for the winning basket.

“I thought they might trap,” Paul said. “But once I saw (Portland guard) Raymond Felton go away I saw an opportunity thre and I just tried to attack and get to the rim.”

Prior to all that, Randy Foye pulled the Clippers out of a 2-point hole with his fifth three-pointer with 47.8 to give the Clippers a 96-95 lead. Jamal Crawford answered with a jumper to put Portland ahead again, but that just set the stage for Paul.

Foye and Blake Griffin each had 20 points, with Griffin adding 13 rebounds as the Clippers won their third in a row.

The art of elevating their game to another level is something the Clippers are engaged in a desperate search for. It’s a must-have skill but an elusive find given the fast-paced schedule, the lack of practice time and a roster that’s changed dramatically throughout the last four months.

For the time being they will settle for a comfortable level of consistency and enough moments of dominance to piece together the necessary victory total to achieve their playoff aspirations.

“It obviously wasn’t our best performance,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But we’ll take it.”

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EVANS SHOCKED AT FINE

By Vincent Bonsignore
Staff Writer

The next time Clippers forward Reggie Evans responds to an inside joke among teammates he’s going to take a good look around who might be watching – and definitely check the NBA fine scale to see how much it might cost him.

Evan was docked $25,000 dollars by the league Friday for making an obscene gesture during Monday’s home against New Orleans.

Essentially he was caught flipping the bird to someone.

Evans admits he did it, but wants to make it clear it was not directed at a fan as has been widely speculated on the internet, specifically Deadspin.com.

Or as Evans described Deadspin, “a bogus website.”

“Since I’ve been here I’ve had 19, 20 thousand fans cheering my name. And out of that 19 or thousand I’ve not had one person saying something negative to me,” Evans said Friday. “I think if I would have (really) done something you all would have picked it up on it and asked me about it after the game.”

Instead, Evans explained, he was responding to a running inside joke he has with teammates DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.

The three teammates call each other names during practice and games – typically cupcake or cheesecake – and anyone whose spent time in the Clippers locker room can vouch for that.

When Evans completed a layup in traffic and drew a foul against the Hornets, Jordan and Griffin shouted from the bench, “Good play, cupcake.”

Evans responded by discreetly using his middle finger to scratch his upper lip.

“And if you see, I’m looking at them. If you look at the film I’m looking at them, that’s who I’m looking at,” Evans said. “It’s an indie joke, is what’s going on. We’ve got a tight team.

I’m smiling. I’m looking at DJ and Blake. Like, ‘ohhh I can’t want to get on the bench and get back at you all. But I can’t right now because I’m on the court.”

Evans said he will appeal to the fine, if anything to make sure everyone understands he was not doing it in a mean-spirited way.

“I’m not going to sit up here and disrespect the game,” Evans said.

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