Time warp? This sounds like what Jamal Crawford was saying exactly a year ago, when the Clippers were still forging an iron-clad group that would subsequently win 57 games and survive God-knows-what when the playoff-time turmoil struck.
Staples Center was eerily quiet on Saturday. Quiet enough to hear chit-chat from the players. Even a slap of the hands before a free throw could be heard, and that was in the first half, before the Toronto Raptors were well on their way to a 110-98 win.
At this time a year ago, the Clippers were 20-11 and coming off an overtime loss at Portland, then beat Utah to start an 8-2 run.
The Clippers are 20-11 and face Utah Monday at Staples Center, with six consecutive home games to follow.
Yes, as a matter of fact there is a concern among the Clippers over backup point guard Jordan Farmar, who went scoreless as Chris Paul’s backup for the 10th time this season in their 110-98 loss to Toronto at Staples Center.
“I’m sure Doc’s going to exercise every option,” Paul said. “We talk to Jordan, he’s going to be fine. This league is all about confidence, too. Jordan knows what’s capable of but at the same time, you’ve got to be out there, you’ve got to have people encouraging you. We’re right there behind him.”
Coach Doc Rivers is searching for the right buttons to push but in the end, said Farmar is still his choice.
“I think about all 15 guys,” Rivers said. “But I think Jordan’s the right guy.”
As much as they didn’t want to lean on the fatigue issue, the Clippers couldn’t avoid it. Especially since Toronto had four days off before beating the Clippers, 110-98, with a big second half Saturday at Staples Center.
“It felt like we ran out of gas before the game started,” Chris Paul said.
The Clippers take on high-scoring Toronto at Staples Center this afternoon, so defense is a priority. Coach Doc Rivers said Big Baby Davis’ defensive presence off the bench has been key this season, particularly because he’s one the floor when DeAndre Jordan is getting a breather.
“We try to avoid the lineup with him and DJ because it’s very hard to score, but there’s been times when we’ve had no choice, unless the (opposing) team is going small,” Rivers said. “Golden State S helped us the other night – they went small for that one stretch. That allowed us not to go to that combination.
“He can create other stuff with his defense. Defense is scoring, too. If you get stops you can get transition buckets. That in a way is scoring through our defense. Baby knows our system probably better than anybody on our team, so he does help in that way.”
Performing his due diligence as a coach, Doc Rivers pulled out the video of the last time the Clippers faced the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The dreaded homework assignment was as difficult to endure as he expected.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I learned from that,” Rivers said. “You needed like three Diet Cokes to stay awake watching that game. That game was horrible to watch. By both teams. They were just less worse than us in that game.”
It was a little easier to watch Sunday night when the Clippers pulled together for a 102-80 victory over Cleveland at Staples Center. It came after another ailment struck the team when guard Darren Collison was a late scratch due to a stomach virus.
On his 25 th birthday, Griffin had 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Chris Paul had 16 points and 15 assists and though the Clippers made only 44.7 percent of their shots, they committed only seven turnovers and limited Cleveland to 34.9 percent shooting.
“That’s the funnest part of the game, to tell you the truth,” Paul said of the Clippers’ defense. “Yeah, it’s nice to see 3’s and dunks and stuff go in, but the most frustrating thing you can do to another team is to stop them defensively and I think that’s where we’re really making our imprint on the games, and we’re doing it at the right time.”
The Clippers were held to a season-low 82 points on Dec. 7 in Cleveland but jumped out to a 9-0 lead, kicked it up to as many as 22 points and were never seriously threatened.
The Clippers take their winning streak to Denver Monday night. It ties for the second-longest win streak in franchise history, equaling the 11 in a row Buffalo Braves won in November of 1974.
They set the club mark last season when they won 17 in a row, not that the Clippers are completely interested in the streak.
“It’s funny,” Paul said. “We went 17 last year, and right now it’s the right time of year to be playing pretty well.”
Rookie Reggie Bullock, celebrating his 23 rd birthday, got first-quarter playing time and took advantage of his opportunity. He scored six of his career-high 14 points in the opening period, helping the Clippers to a 27-18 lead.
Before he could think about playing, though, he had to sing “Happy Birthday” to Griffin. The entire team sang for Bullock.
“It’s probably like the 10 th time he’s had to do it this year,” Griffin said of Bullock’s rendition. “And it seems like he’s getting worse.”
He might have had his potential role for the night on his mind, too.
“I just thought, ‘We’ve got so many guards out, who’s going to play the 2?’ I guess I’m the next guy in line,” Bullock said. “I just try to be confident.”
And forward Matt Barnes continued his run as well. Barnes had 11 points, making it the 12 th consecutive game of scoring in double figures. Barnes entered Sunday’s game averaging 16.4 points per game in March, shooting 55.7 percent from the field and making 41.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
He took over the starting small forward duties on Jan. 20.
Paul again struggled with his shot until it mattered. He went 5-for-6 from the field and scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s such a great shooter,” Rivers said. “I think there are times when he’s so focused on running the team, he comes off wide open and he’s still looking to run the team and then he’ll shoot, and those are hard shots.
“At the point guard spot, when you decide to shoot, it’s your shot. I thought he did a great job of that in the fourth quarter.”
Luol Deng led Cleveland with 23 points and Dion Waiters had 15 off the bench.
Center Spencer Hawes had 14 points and five rebounds but was ejected with 1:19 left in the game.
Another day, another ailment for the Clippers, who simply shrugged and moved on after it was announced that Darren Collison would miss Sunday’s game against Cleveland due to a stomach virus.
Collison was replacing Jamal Crawford, who is out with a calf strain. Crawford was replacing J.J. Redick, who is out with a bulging disc in his lower back.
In other words, the Clippers’ four days off after Monday night’s game in Denver are coming at just the right time, right?
Actually, Coach Doc Rivers said, the break might not mean a thing for the injured players.
“I don’t think it will be because one of them or both of them may not be ready,” Rivers said of Crawford and Redick. “I don’t think that matters that we have practice or anything for them, it’s more about getting them healthy. If they’re healthy and they could practice one or two (times), that would be a great stretch but if they’re not, it doesn’t mean much.”
Redick is getting closer and worked out on the court before the game. With Crawford, who tried to make a comeback last weekend, the Clippers are being cautious. His status of “day-to-day” stays the same from day to day.
“Jamal has one of those nasty little calf injuries that you feel like h’es getting better, but you can’t take that risk,” Rivers said. “If he goes down again with that, we may not see him. That’s a hard risk to take with him so we’ve got to be right this time.”
Instead, the break figures to benefit the players who need it most, like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.
“Yeah, that’s what the break’s good for, is Chris and Blake and DJ, even though DJ swears he wants to play 48 a night,” Rivers said. “That’s good for them. I also think the new guys (Danny Granger and Glen Davis), it gives them a chance to take a breath and get situated with their life off the floor. They’ve been thrown in and just playing games.
“For me, maybe I can go and improve my golf game for a couple days since I’m so bad at it.”
Tip-off: 6 p.m. PDT Friday, EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
TV/radio: Prime Ticket/KFWB 980, KWKU 1220
Update: With nine consecutive victories, the Clippers are on a streak they think might be a better one than pulled off last season, when they won 17 in a row last season. This team has done it while missing key parts like J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley, yet the Clippers keep scoring and are the highest scoring team in the league. . . . Their 111-98 win over Golden State Wednesday kept them in third place in the Western Conference standings and pushed them to five games ahead of the Warriors in the Pacific Division. . . . The addition of Danny Granger is looking a lot more promising. He came off the bench to score 18 points. “It’s getting comfortable,” Granger said. “The way this offense is, is so wide open. Anybody can push the ball. Blake (Griffin) can make plays on the open court, Chris (Paul) pushes, Matt (Barnes) pushes. We have a very unique team, with the ability to have so many play makers running the floor and you have shooters running the wings. You get a lot of shots, and I made a bunch of them.”
Remember way back when – OK, last season – when the Clippers had a 17-game win streak and their bench was terrorizing the league?
Heading into Friday’s game at Utah, the Clippers are barely halfway to that 17-game mark, having won nine in a row.
But try that nine-game streak without J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley going down with back spasms. Throw in a 13-point win over rival Golden State, and the Clippers are looking like all the parts are settling in and seemingly can only be better when the squad is full.
“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” said forward Matt Barnes, who has stepped into the starting lineup and caught fire. “You know last year we went on a winning streak, but it was like in November or December or something and it didn’t mean much.
“I think now that we’ve had so many injuries and so many ups and downs, getting guys healthy, getting guys acclimated, you know with all that being said, we are still able to win tough games, blowouts, all different kinds of ways.”
Another good sign? Coach Doc Rivers had a one-word answer for what he wants to see most out of his team.
“Health,” he said.
Five seconds into the second half, Chris Paul picked up a steal and Matt Barnes finished after Paul missed a reverse layup.
Less than a minute into the third period, the Clippers had run off six points to hike their lead to 39 points and then, finally, there were some boos for the Lakers at Staples Center.
There might not have been enough fans left by the end to release their frustration after the Clippers scored a 142-94 thrashing that was about as lopsided as any NBA game could be.
“We took a body blow and it looked like it just took us to our knees,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “For whatever reason, maybe we couldn’t finish and make plays or anything. They smelled blood in the water and they killed us.”
It was the Clippers’ largest winning margin in their history, eclipsing the previous mark of 45 points. The Lakers equaled the worst loss in their history.
Maybe the Clippers’ 60-20 run to close the first half was still being digested by Lakers fans who watched their team being dismantled on its own court.
It started with what brings a smile to Clippers coach Doc Rivers – defense. They held the Lakers to 39.5 percent shooting, stopped their 3-point shooting and forced 22 turnovers.
“You can feel us starting to believe in our defense and being in the right spots,” Rivers said. “What I like now is every time one of them is not there, they point at themselves right away, they know it. I would prefer them not to do that and be there, but they’re getting there and they’re taking ownership when they’re not.
“If we can get four stops five stops six in a row, there’s a chance we’re going to get a couple of fast breaks in that stretch and that’s what we’re keying it on.”
Four Clippers had double-doubles before sitting out the entire fourth quarter. The one starter who didn’t have a double-double was Darren Collison, who had to settle for being the game’s high scorer with 24 points.
The Clippers had 34 fast-break points and led by as many as 51 points.
The Lakers held a 20-13 lead midway through the first quarter when the court tilted. By halftime, the Clippers held a 73-40 advantage. That’s a 60-20 run for those scoring at home.
“Going in yelling and screaming is not going to help a lot,” D’Antoni said. “There’s nobody happy over there (in the locker room) and everybody knows they’re embarrassed.”
Blake Griffin had 20 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and a devastating dunk off a lob from Paul that served as the evening’s exclamation point. Barnes had 17 points and 12 rebounds, DeAndre Jordan had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Paul had 13 points and 11 assists.
Only Pau Gasol, with 21 points, was doing anything for the Lakers in their era of small ball, going with shooters to surround Gasol. Xavier Henry finished with 15 points and Kent Bazemore had 14.
It seemed like all the Clippers needed was to avoid overconfidence. If they needed to hear that they actually lost to the Lakers on opening night, Rivers wasn’t going to bring it up.
“We can say that we never looked at that and that it never crossed our minds, but it did,” Collison said. “We knew this game was about us. We came out in the second half and we were up by 20-plus points, we told each other this is about us. We’ve got bigger goals right now. No disrespect to the Lakers, that’s a very good team, but we want to accomplish something big.”
It was one thing to see Griffin and Paul control their parts of the game, but Collison had 22 points midway through the third period and Barnes continued his hot streak.
In the previous six games, Barnes was shooting 51.3 percent on 3-pointers. He made two of his first four against the Lakers and was one of three Clippers with a double-double in the third period.
“Just playing free,” Barnes said of his recent outburst. “My mind was on a few different things going into the trade deadline, hearing a lot of rumors, really almost being traded and then the last minute it not happening.
“So I just decided to let all that go and go out there and play free. Whatever capacity I’m called upon I’ll be ready to do.”