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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 CBSsports.com 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.