Clippers end losing streak in Chauncey Billups’ return

Chauncey Billups couldn’t lift the Clippers on his shoulders and carry them to the end of their four-game losing streak all alone. Chris Paul couldn’t do it by himself either. Neither could Blake Griffin nor could DeAndre Jordan.

They had to do it together.

Billups gave the Clippers an emotional boost in his first game since suffering a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury last Feb. 6, and he, Paul, Griffin and Jordan banded together for a 101-95 victory Wednesday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Like I told the guys going into the fourth quarter, ‘It’s all a test, a test of your character,’” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I was proud of the way we managed the fourth quarter and made plays when we had to, offensively and defensively.”

Billups scored seven points, all in the first quarter, in 19 minutes, 24 seconds. He also had three assists, including a 35-foot lob pass to Jordan for a spectacular highlight-reel dunk that gave the Clippers a 97-93 lead with 16.6 seconds left.

“I was just so excited to be back out there after such a long road back,” Billups said. “I probably played full court three times. I have to be patient. I wasn’t going to hear the word, ‘No,’ or, ‘He’s done.’ I wasn’t going to listen to none of y’all.

“As long as we won the game, it’s a success for me.”

Paul put the Clippers ahead for good with a jump shot that gave them an 86-85 lead with 4 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the game. Griffin hit a jumper moments later and then dunked off a feed from Jordan to make it 90-85 with 3:02 left.

After the Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic countered with a three-point play, Jordan converted a three-point play of his own to restore the Clippers’ five-point lead with 59.4 seconds remaining.

Paul scored 23 points and added 11 assists, Griffin scored 18 points only one game after he had a career-low four, and Jordan added 15 points. Matt Barnes scored 13 points and Jamal Crawford had 11 to lead the Clippers’ rejuvenated second unit.

Kevin Love, a former UCLA standout, scored 19 points on 3-for-12 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Alexey Shved added 17 points in a reserve role and Luke Ridnour had 13 points and seven assists.

“It was huge to have Chauncey out there,” Paul said. “After player introductions, I went to him and said, ‘I’ve been waiting a long time to have you back out there, so lets go.’ To see him back on the court, doing what he does best, is remarkable.”

Billups said it would be months rather than weeks before he regains his form.

“I’m not what I was the day I got hurt,” he said.

After starting the season with eight victories in their first 10 games, the Clippers went off the rails in a big way. They lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Brooklyn Nets, the Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Hornets.

Losing was bad enough, but it was the way they lost that gave Clippers Nation pause. The Clippers were up and down and all around in all facets of the game during their skid. What’s more, their energy came and went too frequently.

“We have to be more consistent,” Del Negro said when asked before Wednesday’s game how his team could avoid a fifth consecutive loss. “We know that. We have to get our energy back.”

Billups did his part, scoring the Clippers’ first basket, a 3-pointer on his first attempt since he was injured in a game against the Orlando Magic almost 10 months ago. He scored seven of the Clippers’ first 11 points.

“I got back pretty far ahead of schedule,” Billups said. “Right now, I feel good. I played 20 minutes, but there’s nothing like a game. I feel like I’m in decent shape, but there’s noting like a real live game. I’m sure I’ll be sore.”



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Chauncey Billups to return to Clippers lineup tonight against T-Wolves

Chauncey Billups will make his season debut tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Clippers announced today on their website. Billups hasn’t played in a game since tearing his left Achilles’ tendon during a game Feb. 6 at Orlando.

“We are all excited to have Chauncey back,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told reporters at the morning shootaround. “I know how hard he has worked to get to this point and we are looking forward to incorporating him into the lineup.”

Billups will start at the shooting guard position, rejoining point guard Chris Paul in the Clippers’ backcourt. Willie Green, who started the season’s first 14 games in place of Billups, will shift to a reserve role.

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Blake Griffin says adjustments hurt the Clippers in loss to Hornets

A lack of intensity hurt the Clippers’ chances for a victory Monday, no question about it, but did a change in tactics finish them? Clippers power forward Blake Griffin said he believed some changes made on the fly also were to blame.

“I think we tried to change some things, tried to change our schemes and some things we have been successful at and that hurt us,” Griffin said after scoring a career-low four points on 1-for-9 shooting against the New Orleans Hornets.

“I think we should play teams how we play every team. We made adjustments down the stretch when certain guys hurt us and I think we should have stuck with what we had been doing and what has made us successful.”

Coach Vinny Del Negro went with a smaller lineup, playing center DeAndre Jordan for only 15 minutes, 23 seconds. Del Negro also used Jordan’s backup, Ryan Hollins, for barely eight minutes.

“He wasn’t involved,” Del Negro said of Jordan. “It wasn’t just ‘D.J.’ It was all of our big guys. They weren’t active. They weren’t physical. They didn’t set the tone for us from the start. It’s not just one guy. It’s everybody.”

The Clippers hope to keep things simple Wednesday, when they play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Chris Paul offers advice to the Clippers after their latest defeat

Chris Paul didn’t like the way the Clippers played during their loss Monday to the New Orleans Hornets. The All-Star point guard didn’t hold back in his feelings, showing the sort of passion that was absent from his team’s game.

“Our defense was terrible,” Paul said. “It’s almost embarrassing. Teams feel like they can come down and score on us every night. We can’t play like that because we won’t win. Regardless if we’re scoring or not, collectively, we have to defend.”

Paul referred to the almost unguarded shots the Hornets got again and again from the perimeter. The Hornets took 25 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, sinking 15 (60 percent). They made 36 of 71 shots overall (50.7 percent).

The Clippers, as has been their method of operation against teams with sub-.500 records so far this season, didn’t play with anything resembling a sense of urgency until it was too late in the game to rally for a victory.

Paul, who scored 20 points, and Caron Butler, who had a team-leading 33 points on a franchise-record nine 3-pointers, tried but failed to keep them competitive in the second half. The Clippers’ loss was their fourth in a row after a six-game winning streak.

The Hornets ended a seven-game losing streak with Monday’s victory.

“We have to take more pride in our play whether we’re at home or on the road,” said Paul, who spent his first six seasons with the Hornets before he was traded to the Clippers last December. “Guys can’t look in our eyes and feel like they can get by. We’ve got to play with a better sense of urgency and understand that when teams that are supposedly not that great come into our city, we’ve got a target on our back.”

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From the locker room: Clippers discuss loss to Hornets

There weren’t many smiles in the Clippers’ locker room after a 105-98 loss Monday night to the New Orleans Hornets. Coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t like the Clippers’ energy or execution. Blake Griffin blamed himself for scoring a career-low four points and Chris Paul wasn’t pleased by the team’s effort.

Del Negro: “Give New Orleans credit. They outworked us in every aspect. We got nothing from our big guys, nothing really from our bench and nothing really from anybody. (The Hornets) set the tone. … We didn’t play hard enough to win.”

Griffin: “I’m totally comfortable within our offense. I just missed shots tonight. It’s on me. It’s not part of the offense. It’s not anybody’s fault, but mine.”

Paul: “We have to take more pride in our play, whether we’re at home or on the road. Guys can’t look into our eyes and feel like they can get by. We’re got to play with a better sense of urgency and understand that when teams that are supposedly not that great come into our city, we’ve got a target on our back.”

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Lamar Odom gets backing of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro

Lamar Odom, a reserve forward, has played sick this season. And not in a good way. Actually, he was under the weather for Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, but played his customary minutes.

Odom also received a vote of confidence from Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who said before the game: “I’m just trying to keep him engaged. He knows he needs to play better. He’s lost some weight. He needs to lose more. I’m going to stick with him because in the long run he can give us something we need.”

Odom skipped the morning shootaround because of an upset stomach, but joined the rotation for Monday’s game. He went into the game averaging 1.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 12.3 minutes, microscopic numbers for a player who was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year while with the Lakers in 2010-11.

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Chauncey Billups closer but still not ready to make Clippers season debut

One of these days veteran guard Chauncey Billups will tell Clipeprs coach Vinny Del Negro everything is fine at last with his Achilles tendon and he’s ready to play in his first game since he was injured in a game last Feb. 12 against the Magic in Orlando.

It’s expected to happen sooner rather than later, with reporting last week Billups was targeting a return to the active roster sometime in the first week of December. Del Negro said there remains no timetable for Billups’ return.

“That’s my CBS report for you,” Del Negro said.

Billups is scheduled to practice with his teammates today.

“He’ll be ready when he says he’s ready to go,” Del Negro added.

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DeAndre Jordan adding offense to his game for the Clippers

Tomorrow’s story today …

DeAndre Jordan has made seven consecutive free throws.

He’s almost doubled his career scoring average.

Shaquille O’Neal called him the Western Conference’s best center right now.

Jordan’s progress with the basketball in his hands has been so remarkable so far this season and so helpful in balancing the Clippers’ all-too-predictable offense that it’s difficult to select which of the three lines above is more astounding than the others.

Let’s go line by line.

First, the Clippers hired a shooting coach, Bob Thate, to work with Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin to improve their free throw percentages. The Clippers believed Jordan and Griffin gave away points with poor free-throw shooting.

Jordan shot 52.5 percent in 2011-12, a career best, but nothing to brag about. He’s connecting at only 46.7 percent (7 of 15) this season, but he’s made seven in a row going into tonight’s game against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

So, perhaps Thate’s tutoring is playing dividends.

Second, Jordan’s scoring average is up to 11.3 points after seven games. His career average was a paltry 6.1 points after four seasons as a defense-first center on a team that didn’t ask him to do much offensively.

Jordan has shown a willingness to shoot when in the low post so far this season. He’s displayed a nice touch on his running hooks, confident in his shot with either hand. He’s also been unstoppable at point-blank range, dunking with authority.

Third, O’Neal’s comments came after fellow TNT analyst Steve Kerr addressed the Clippers’ lack of offensive variety last season. Without naming names, Kerr suggested the Clippers relied too heavily on Griffin and point guard Chris Paul.

This season, the Clippers have encouraged Jordan to look for his shot more often.

“We tell ‘D.J.’ he’s a huge part of this team,” Paul said of Jordan, who has scored 20 points or more twice this season and has two other games with 10 points or more. “He knows it, too. To us, he’s one of our most valuable players.”

O’Neal, who knows a thing or two about playing the center position after a Hall of Fame career that included three NBA titles with the Lakers to start the 2000s and a fourth with the Heat, praised Jordan’s play.

“I don’t know what all the other big guys were doing this summer, but I know what DeAndre Jordan was doing. He was working on his game,” O’Neal said during last Thursday’s telecast of the Clippers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“He’s playing like a real big man, taking his time and going right over the top,” O’Neal continued. “I’m going on the record. The best center in the West right now is DeAndre Jordan. You heard it here first.”

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Blake Griffin takes it ‘easy’ in Clippers’ victory over Hawks

Blake Griffin swiped an errant pass with the Clippers locked in a tight game with the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. He had nothing but open court ahead of him and a sellout crowd rose to its feet anticipation of what was to come.

How many revolutions would he make?

How high would he leap?

What kind sort of degree of difficulty would be involved?

Griffin disappointed all of the fans, including Shaquille O’Neal, who was seated in a courtside seat. Griffin jumped no higher than he needed to and dropped the ball easily through the basket as 19,060 fans groaned in disappointment.

“I was going to dunk it,” Griffin said of what might be the tamest of all his dunks gave the Clippers a 63-60 lead with 42.4 seconds left in the third quarter. “I kind of just let it go. I was wondering if I’d hear some boos, and the loudest was from Shaq.”

Talk about a tough audience.

“Yeah, I booed him,” O’Neal, a former NBA center who is now a TV commentator, said not long after Griffin scored a team-leading 16 points in the Clippers’ 89-76 victory. “I paid $1,400 for those seats. I want to see some (exciting plays).”

No question, Griffin likes to throw down crowd-pleasing dunks, but he also wants to preserve his body for battles to come. So, he took the easy route, and gave himself and his ongoing battle with a sore neck and a burst bursa sac in his right elbow a break.

Plus, there was more at stake for Griffin and the Clippers at that point in the game. Griffin had just given the Clippers a 61-60 lead with a short jumper. His dunk made it 63-60. Soon enough, the Clippers were up 85-65 in the fourth quarter.

Griffin played only 1 minute, 11 seconds in the final quarter with the Clippers well ahead and just 30:07 for the game. Griffin is averaging 32.1 minutes through the season’s first seven games, down from 36.2 minutes last season.

Asked about his injuries, Griffin said, “Neck’s good, elbow’s better.”

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