Not long after he agreed to a contract with the Clippers during the offseason, backup power forward Ronny Turiaf got a phone call from coach Vinny Del Negro. Then another. Then another. Then another. It was something new and different for Turiaf.
If you still think the Clippers’ winning streak isn’t a big deal — and who would really still be thinking that as they go for their 18th in a row Tuesday night in Denver? — then consider that there have been entire seasons when they didn’t win that many games.
Seven of them, in fact.
It’s hard to imagine now, with the Clippers riding the wave of a 17-game winning streak after a 107-96 victory Sunday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, but coach Vinny Del Negro was sitting on a rather hot seat going into 2012-13.
Because the Clippers assembled the most talented roster in their history during the offseason and because expectations were higher than ever before after a second-round playoff appearance last spring, Del Negro’s future beyond this season was in doubt.
If you missed any or all of the chatter last night on TNT, here are a couple of thoughtful comments about the Clippers before, during and after their rout of the Boston Celtics. The victory was the league-leading Clippers’ 15 consecutive.
Charles Barkley on how to beat the Clippers: “I don’t like their half-court offense. As long as they are running and dunking, they will be tough to beat. But if you slow them down and make them walk the ball up and down the court, I think that’s going to be their bug-a-boo.”
One of these days veteran guard Chauncey Billups will be sound enough to return to the Clippers’ starting lineup and Willie Green will take a seat on the bench. If all goes as planned, Billups will play significant minutes and Green will be a cheerleader.
Green won’t say a word in anger. He won’t complain about his reduced role.
That’s simply not his method of operation.
“We all have to do our parts,” Green said before scoring nine points Thursday in the Clippers’ 106-77 beat-down of the Boston Celtics when asked about the inevitable move from starter to backup when Billups recovers from ankle tendinitis. “Great teams become great because everybody knows their role.”
Green was something of a surprise choice to fill in for Billups, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear last February and didn’t make his 2012-13 debut until Nov. 28. Billups started three games and Green didn’t play a minute in any of them.
When tendinitis flared in his ankle, Billups returned to the sideline and Green became a starter again. Green’s production isn’t what the Clippers expect to get from a healthy Billups, but somehow he and the team have made it work en route to a league-leading 22-6 record going into Thursday.
“There is something special going on here and we all have to do our parts,” said Green, who went into Thursday’s game averaging only 5.9 points and 1.5 rebounds. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement. It’s still early in the season.”
There’s no timetable for Billups’ return to the active roster, which means Green will continue in his role for the immediate future. Green has played with damaged knee cartilage, something Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro takes into account when assessing the veteran guard’s production.
“Willie’s a pro,” Del Negro said. “He’s solid on the court and off the court and in the locker room. He gives us what he can. I think that’s one of the reasons we wanted him (in a trade last July 30 from the Atlanta Hawks). No one knows when Chauncey’s going to be back.”
So, Green has the job until Billups does return to the lineup.
First at last. The Clippers have been the NBA’s hottest team for days and weeks now. They finally moved atop the league’s overall standings with a resounding 112-100 victory Tuesday night over the Denver Nuggets in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 19,346 at Staples Center.
The victory extended the Clippers’ franchise-record winning streak to 14 games and they improved their overall mark to 22-6, a half-game better than second-place Oklahoma City. The Thunder (21-6) lost earlier in the day to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
The Clippers have won a franchise-record 13 consecutive games, including a team-record six in a row on the road. They also have the NBA’s second-best overall record at 21-6 and lead the rival Lakers by a stunning eight games in the standings.
If that’s not remarkable enough news, then consider they’ve held eight straight opponents to less than 43 percent shooting. Their average margin of victory during their winning streak is 13 points. They also have four wins by 20 points or more, including Sunday’s 103-77 rout of the Phoenix Suns.
They aren’t rebounding well enough to suit coach Vinny Del Negro and they could play a little less recklessly with the basketball, but otherwise they’re on a roll the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the Buffalo Braves/San Diego Clippers/Los Angeles Clippers franchise.
The Clippers go for their 14th straight victory Tuesday when they play host to the Denver Nuggets (15-13) at Staples Center in the last of five Christmas games around the league. Their last loss was a home defeat Nov. 26 against the New Orleans Hornets.
Since then, the Clippers have defeated Minnesota, Sacramento, Utah, Dallas, Phoenix, Toronto, Chicago, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Detroit, New Orleans, Sacramento (again) and Phoenix (again) for the longest winning streak in the league this season.
Point guard Chris Paul was named the Western Conference player of the week after averaging 16.3 points, 11.3 assists and 3.5 steals during the Clippers’ victories over Detroit, New Orleans, Sacramento and Phoenix. He had double-doubles in three games.
Paul sparked the Clippers’ blowout of the Suns by scoring 16 points and adding 13 assists and five steals Sunday. It was the second consecutive game in which he recorded five steals following the Clippers’ win Friday over Sacramento.
What’s more, he reached the 5,000-assist milestone for his career during the first half of the Clippers’ win last Wednesday over the Hornets, his old team. He finished with 12 assists in the game, but did not play in the fourth quarter of a 93-77 victory.
Magic Johnson, a Hall of Fame guard with the Lakers, had a lot of nice things to say about the team that shares Staples Center but little else with the 16-time NBA champions. Above all, Johnson said the Clippers are legitimate title contenders.
Tomorrow’s story tonight …
Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling led his team with old-fashioned cheers of “Hip-Hip-Hooray,” but there were no bottles of champagne in the locker room after their 93-77 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets extended their winning streak to a franchise-record tying 11 games.
In fact, Sterling’s unusual postgame visit to congratulate the team was the only semblance of a celebration of the streak. After all, the Clippers (19-6) have greater goals in mind than matching the modest success of their ancient cousins, the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves.
“We can’t be satisfied,” point guard Chris Paul later said of the streak. “It’s great for the fans, but we can’t be satisfied. Food tastes better, music sounds better, you sleep a little better, everything is better when you’re winning. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
The Clippers will try for a franchise-record 12th straight victory when they play host to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. It’s not a streak to challenge the Lakers’ league-record mark of 33 consecutive wins, but given the team’s inglorious history, it’s something to build upon.
Then again, maybe it’s not.
“We don’t talk about the winning streak,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s almost irrelevant. It’s about our enthusiasm. It’s like I tell our guys, ‘Trust your eyes, you know when you’re playing the right way.’ It’s about locking in and being focused on what we’re trying to do.”
The Clippers haven’t lost since the Hornets defeated the Nov. 26. They’ve won easily, with their starters resting for the fourth quarters of games. They’ve won a few close ones, too. They’ve won when they’ve played well from start to finish and when they’ve had their ups and downs.
Wednesday’s victory was never in doubt after the Clippers took a double-digit lead in the second quarter. They led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter and by as many as 24 in the fourth, when all of their starters except Willie Green sat and cheered for the second unit.
Paul scored 10 points and recorded the 5,000th assist of his career with the ninth of his team-leading 12 on Wednesday, a ho-hum pass to Blake Griffin for a layup and a 45-30 lead for the Clippers with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining in the first half. Griffin was fouled and sank the free throw.
Many fans among the sellout crowd of 19,188 gave Paul a standing ovation when his milestone assist was announced on the video screens on the arena’s giant overhanging scoreboard. Some then began to chant, “CP3, CP3, CP3” Paul’s nickname.
“Oh man, it’s pretty cool,” Paul said of reaching the milestone. “I didn’t know what everyone was cheering for. Seriously. I was talking to Blake and I asked him what was going on. It’s pretty cool, especially to do it here in front of our home crowd.”
Paul then turned to Griffin and asked, “What did that mean to you?”
“He came to me and told me he needed one more,” Griffin joked as Paul, seated next to him during their customary postgame press conference, laughed heartily. “He told me, You’ve got to get fouled so the crowd can acknowledge me.”
Then adopting a more serious tone after the laughter of Paul and a room filled with reporters died down somewhat, Griffin added, “It’s cool to be a part of the end of that. It’s one of thousands, obviously. That’s definitely not the last. I’m looking forward to 10,000.”
Griffin scored a team-leading 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and Jamal Crawford added 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting and five assists in a reserve role. DeAndre Jordan added 12 points and Matt Barnes scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Robin Lopez scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Hornets, who lost their ninth consecutive game. Lopez scored 14 of the Hornets’ first 16 points, underscoring their lack of depth in facing a team with perhaps the best second unit in the NBA. Rookie forward Anthony Davis added 16 for New Orleans (5-20).