Vinny Del Negro didn’t want to talk about personal milestones Wednesday night. He ignored a question about his 100th victory as the Clippers’ coach, a grinding 99-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks in front of a sellout crowd of 19,362 at Staples Center.
To hear the Clippers talking Wednesday morning at their shootaround, tying the franchise record for consecutive victories with 11 would be nice. Beating the stuffing out of the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night would be even better. The Hornets are the last team to beat the Clippers, taking them down Nov. 26.
“I really think more important is New Orleans beat us a couple weeks back,” backup small forward Matt Barnes said. “They celebrated like they won a championship. So, I think that’s on our minds first and foremost. Tying the record is important for us, but we’re looking more forward to the payback.”
Power forward Blake Griffin was named the Western Conference player of the week, not an easy honor when you consider he didn’t play in any of the last three fourth quarters because the Clippers were so far ahead of the opposition.
Griffin led the Clippers to win over the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. He had 30 points and 11 rebounds against Utah, 19 points and 13 rebounds against Dallas, 24 points and eight rebounds against Phoenix and 19 points and nine rebounds against Toronto.
For the week, he was ninth among players in the West in scoring with an average of 23 points and seventh in rebounding with an average of 10 per game despite sitting out the fourth quarters of blowout victories over the Mavericks, Suns and Raptors.
Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks was the Eastern Conference player of the week.
It was over before you knew it, before many in the crowd had a chance to bite into their hot dogs or take a sip from their drinks, before the Clippers could really flex their muscles in front of the Sacramento Kings.
Caron Butler sank a 3-pointer to break an early tie. DeAndre Jordan soared to dunk a missed shot by teammate Chris Paul a moment later and then dunked a lob pass from Blake Griffin, who sank a hook shot a minute later.
The Clippers were never challenged again and seized a lopsided 116-81 victory Saturday night from the Kings in front of a sellout crowd of 19,060 at Staples Center. After breaking a 6-6 tie on Butler’s 3, the Clippers were unstoppable.
“We didn’t let them in the game early,” Paul said after the Clippers’ widest margin of victory this season. “The ball moved. Everybody touched the ball. We’re pretty dangerous when that happens. Tonight we made shots and got (defense) stops.
“It was collective.”
Playing with an unmistakable sense of purpose, the Clippers did what good teams are supposed to do when they play poor ones. They exploited the Kings’ weaknesses and took away their will to fight by building a big lead and holding it.
The Clippers led by 30-17 after the first quarter, then by 58-34 at halftime before they really warmed to the task. They led by as many as 34 points in the third quarter and held an 87-58 advantage going into the fourth.
It was simply exercise by then, which was fine with the Clippers (10-6). Their second unit got to play extended minutes and their starters got a chance to rest and cheer their teammates. No one in a Clippers uniform was overworked.
Clippers fans, having grown bored with the game, entertained themselves by performing a fourth-quarter wave before heading for the exits. The Clippers led by 101-70 when many in the crowd departed with 5:37 remaining.
Jamal Crawford, a reserve guard, led seven Clippers in double figures with 17 points. Griffin, Paul and backup guard Eric Bledsoe each scored 14 points. Jordan scored 13 points, Matt Barnes added 12 points and Butler scored 11 points.
Marcus Thornton scored 20 points for the Kings, who fell to 4-12 overall and 0-6 on the road. Jason Thompson added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Thornton and Thompson were the only Kings starters to score in double figures.
“I said to the guys, ‘I’ve never played on an Olympic team, but it seems that’s how this is,’” said Crawford, who added a season-high six assists. “Very balanced, guys really unselfish. We have to do it by committee and that’s how we did it.”
The Clippers did all the right things to ensure they would have an easy night. They took the game to the Kings from the opening tip and led by as many as 25 points in the second quarter, playing with equal gusto with and without the ball.
Sacramento seemed befuddled at both ends of the court as the Clippers overwhelmed the Kings with their depth, their skill and a sound game plan. Mostly, the Clippers put their heads down and took the ball to the hoop.
Lob City was open for business with the Clippers scoring 32 of their first 58 points in the paint. There was one significant mishap when Griffin attempted to throw down a lob for a wicked dunk but ended up tossing the ball into the Clippers’ bench.
Griffin was fouled on his misfire, which figured to be a staple on the late-night blooper reels. He made up for it by sinking the ensuing free throws and helping to propel the Clippers to a commanding 58-34 lead by halftime.
“They played at a level that was very high,” Kings coach Keith Smart said of the Clippers. “They have a group of players who play together and they have a bigger purpose with what they are doing and how they are playing, and they show it.”
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.”
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.
Tomorrow’s notebook today …
There’s a word to describe the Clippers’ feelings after look-alike defeats Saturday to the Golden State Warriors and Monday to the Cleveland Cavaliers, inferior teams that won with a good deal more grit and determination and efficiency.
“Disappointed,” point guard Chris Paul said after Tuesday’s practice.
Paul didn’t limit himself to a one-word answer, either.
“Disappointed, and it starts with me as a point guard,” he added. “I can’t let us come out and start out games like that. Giving up 30-point (first) quarters like that the past two games is always going to be tough to come back from.”
The Clippers’ defense wasn’t sound enough in either game. Their rebounding was poor and so was their ballhandling. Above all, their intensity wasn’t what it should have been at the start of each game and they paid the price.
They didn’t get away with it against two teams that missed the playoffs last season, and might not make it in 2012-13. So, they know they’re going to have to play a more complete game when the San Antonio Spurs visit Staples Center tonight.
After victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers to start the season, the Clippers could have been 4-0 going into tonight’s playoff rematch against the Spurs. Instead, they’re only 2-2 and searching for answers.
The Clippers hoped to get off to a fast start, what with seven of their first nine games at home. So far, they are only 1-2 on their home court, missing a chance to bank a few more victories before their schedule gets a little more taxing later this month.
“We’ve just got to get better,” Paul said. “I think we’re one of those teams that it’s not going to matter whether we’re home or away. We just need to play right wherever we’re at. Road games are not going to affect us.”
Twenty-five turnovers Monday against the Cavaliers contributed mightily to the Clippers’ downfall. They had 16 turnovers Saturday against the Warriors, but missed five shots and two free throws and committed two giveaways to start the game.
“We haven’t done anything,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Everything right now is on paper and that doesn’t win you a lot of games. You have to go out there and perform and you have produce and execute and we haven’t done that the last two games.”
–Blake Griffin injury update
The Clippers aren’t overly concerned about power forward Blake Griffin’s ongoing struggles with a burst bursa sac in his right elbow, an injury that’s not expected to keep him from playing in tonight’s game against the Spurs.
Del Negro said he was a little worried about Griffin’s stiff neck after a collision during a drill during Tuesday’s practice, however. Del Negro said Griffin sat out roughly half of the team’s workout.
“Blake’s a tough kid,” Del Negro said. “He’ll fight through it.”
–Clippers scheduling change
The starting time of the Clippers’ game Nov. 17 against the Chicago Bulls was changed to 6 p.m., the NBA announced. It was originally scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. start as part of a day-night doubleheader with the NHL’s Kings. The NHL has locked out its players and the game has been cancelled.
Against the Hasheem Thabeet-led Grizzlies. The Clips have won their first two summer league games, 93-82 over the Lakers and 88-86 over the Hornets. After taking yesterday off, Blake Griffin and co. will play the Grizz, who won their first game by 29 points.
Here’s what Memphis SL head coach David Joerger had to say about the Blake Griffin vs. Darrell Arthur matchup. Arthur averaged 19 minutes a game for Memphis last season.
“They are very similar. They are both active, both athletic. They both have high motors. Darrell played pretty well against him when they were in college. Darrell is our go to guy with this group, so we are going to need to go at Griffin not just defensively, but also offensively because he is our go to guy on offense for this team.”
Arthur will be the best big Griffin has faced in Vegas. Other players of note on the Memphis roster: Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll, and former Clipper Daniel Ewing.
Updates to come.
In 29 minutes, Blake Griffin had 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds. He also committed five turnovers and four fouls, but a solid debut nonetheless. Interestingly, he was listed as the center to start the game, although he moved back to the 4 when DeAndre Jordan came in.
Oh, and the Clippers won, 93-82. Full boxscore here.
Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times is reporting that the Clippers are in very serious talks with Allen Iverson. What does that mean for the future? Who knows.
Meanwhile, the Clippers and Lakers will tip in roughly 50 minutes in Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack Center. Find out how to watch here.
In other news, here’s a solid feature on Blake Griffin from Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.