Blake Griffin added 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers, who outscored the Pistons 32-25 in the final period. Crawford, one of the NBA's top reserves, and Paul combined for 31 points in the second half.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Blake Griffin had 22 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, Chris Paul had 22 points and a season-high 15 assists and the Los Angeles Clippers handed the Charlotte Hornets their sixth straight loss 113-92 on Monday night.
Griffin was 10 of 23 from the field and finished one assist shy of a triple-double.
The Clippers were 15 of 32 from 3-point range, while the Hornets were just 2 of 20. Jamal Crawford had 21 points and J.J. Redick added 17 and the sharp-shooting duo combined to go 9 of 17 from beyond the arc.
Paul came in averaging had 9.5 assists for the Clippers (8-5).
Cody Zeller led the way for Charlotte with a career-high 17 points off the bench. Al Jefferson had 16 points and nine rebounds, and Kemba Walker added 15 points for the Hornets (4-11), who have lost eight of their last nine games.
Gasol was 13 of 18 from the field as six Grizzlies reached double figures. Courtney Lee added 13 points for Memphis, which maintained the league's best record (12-2).
Chris Paul had 22 points, five assists and four steals for the Clippers, who had their two-game winning streak snapped. Jamal Crawford scored 19, and J.J. Redick finished with 15, going 3 of 6 from outside the arc.
Blake Griffin scored 12 points, but was 5 of 17 from the field.
MIAMI -- The season hadn't even reached double figures in games played, yet this early seven-game road trip for the Los Angeles Clippers felt very much like a soul-searching voyage.
Not that losses to the Sacramento Kings in the season’s first week, or to the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls since then, is anything to be ashamed of.
What has made the Clippers rather confounding is that, despite relatively low roster turnover and a second year under Doc Rivers' watch, they haven't looked like a team benefiting from that continuity. They haven't looked like a team, frankly, that is better than last season's version.
Two games into this road trip, the results would make you believe the Clips are indeed finding themselves. Yet comfortable wins against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat on back-to-back nights haven't exactly settled every concern in the town once known as Lob City.
"I don't think we were worried, but at the same time we're not trying to write ourselves as champions," said Chris Paul after compiling an effortless 26 points and 12 assists. "It's two games."
This wasn't exactly the Heat team against which the Clippers could truly measure themselves.
Not when Dwyane Wade is sitting out his third straight game, or when Shawne Williams is still starting because Josh McRoberts isn't fully healthy, or when Luol Deng remains lost in Miami's offense, or when Danny Granger is so rusty he hit the backboard on a wide-open corner 3.
Most importantly, it's difficult for the Clippers to gauge just how effective they really are when the Heat defense was as bad as it has been this season.
Still, it was difficult to ignore just how crisp and natural that Clippers offense played, particularly in a first half that saw them shoot 59.5 percent and lead by as many as 24 points.
"I think half-court-wise, we have some killer sets -- some sets we know that if we need a bucket, we're going to them," Blake Griffin said after a 26-point game where he never had to force anything. "And some sets that we run over and over and over until somebody stops it.
"That 'get out and run' is great. We don't want to shy away from it, but at the same time it's not something where if we don't get anything in transition that we're struggling to score still.”
Besides not truly knowing if the Clippers' offense was that good or the Heat's defense that bad, the other element of L.A.'s performance that leaves you wanting more is the lack of a running game.
Yes, the Clippers were surgical in the half court, and Thursday's contest didn't require that Griffin & Co. rack up the easy transition buckets (6 fast-break points).
But at this point, the Clippers haven't shown much of that style of game at all.
According to Synergy, Los Angeles is 21st in the league in transition scoring at less than 14 points a game.
Last season, the Clips were second in that category at 22.5 a game.
If you believe we're deep enough into the season to consider that a red flag, there are several available theories to explain that significant drop-off.
It could simply be an early-season malaise for a team with a deep postseason run in the plans. It could be the team's emphasis on establishing its half-court offense under Rivers.
Or it could be the same reason why the Clippers' defense has struggled early: a lack of dynamic ability on the wing.
It's the Clippers' most noticeable void. No offense to Matt Barnes, but he's 34 years old, won't consistently force turnovers to ignite a fast break, and doesn't get up the floor as quickly anymore. And behind him, the options don't get any better, with Hedo Turkoglu as the next best option.
The point is, Lob City may not have been the formula for a championship. But there has to be a few strolls through Lob Neighborhoods every once in a while if L.A. wants to compete for a title.
Thursday, the Clippers had seven lobs, but most of them were half-court gimmes against an overwhelmed Heat defense.
If Los Angeles is going to succeed against a team like Memphis, which happens to be the next opponent on this Clippers road trip, the fast break has to be more of a prominent element. And it's quite possible the Clippers don't have the necessary pieces at the shooting guard and small forward spots to make that happen.
"You have to have balance," Rivers said. "You're not going to be one or the other. You're not going to win [playing] all half court. You're not going to win [playing] all transition. You better be good at both of them."
The Clippers might want to go ahead and get good at both elements, too, because an early look at the Western Conference says it could be up for grabs. The Spurs are the early clear favorite to make a third straight Finals trip, but past San Antonio, every other team has visible flaws.
The Grizzlies don't have enough shooting, the Warriors are turnover-prone and lack interior scoring, and the Houston Rockets are weak at power forward and the bench (you can add the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers to that list if you like, but they remain a notch below contender status at the moment).
That should leave the Clippers as prepared as any team to come out of the West. And yet this group has yet to inspire confidence.
Somehow, Paul has managed to put even more responsibility on himself to make sure his team runs enough to truly reach its potential.
"The biggest thing for us is defending," Paul said. "When we defend like that [against the Heat], even when they were scoring, we were getting the ball out quicker and playing with a faster tempo.
"A lot of that's on me, not to walk the ball up the court and make sure I'm forcing us to play a little bit faster."
The Clippers managed to play fast enough Thursday, even against a Heat team that tends to slow the game down.
But again, how much can you gain from playing an overmatched opponent? Not much.
It won't be until Sunday in Memphis that the Clippers can learn if this road trip is some sort of vision quest, or just confirmation that the early-season inconsistencies are real, long-term concerns.
The title picture is more crowded than ever. But which teams currently near the top of their conference's standings have a legit shot at staying there? Our ESPN.com panel weighs in on the viability of five major NBA championship hopefuls.
1. Contender or pretender: Cleveland Cavaliers?
J.A. Adande: Pretender. Even though they could win the Eastern Conference, this team won't be ready to take down the West's best. Their defense is porous, they're still establishing an offensive pecking order and too many key figures -- including the coach -- will be making their maiden NBA playoff voyage.
Kevin Arnovitz: Contender. We've been down this road before -- Season 1 of a talent-laden LeBron James team with championship expectations staggering out of the starting blocks. I usually dismiss the old trope that, "It takes time to jell," but in the Cavs' case, they probably do need time. That's not to say there aren't legitimate issues defensively, but there's enough on that side of the ball to pair with a powerhouse offense.
Amin Elhassan: Pretender. Jeff Van Gundy brought up on the TV broadcast the other day that the Cavs' defense is not championship-level. I'll take it a step further and say it's not even at the level to win a playoff series! There's a lack of urgency and cohesion on the defensive end that needs to change drastically before Cleveland can consider itself good enough to contend for a title. Either that, or the offense needs to be light years better than what it is now -- and it has the second-best offense right now!
Israel Gutierrez: Pretender, at the moment. Even with all the talk about offensive movement and getting Kevin Love involved and Kyrie Irving not playing like a point guard, the primary flaw for the Cavs is their defense. It's not even playoff good right now, much less championship level. And yes, it's early, but what about this personnel makes anyone believe it can improve as much as is obviously necessary?
Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Pretender. I'm wary of saying so because it's hard to write off a LeBron James team that boasts so much offensive talent. At the same time, how are they supposed to cobble together a defense? Anderson Varejao is their best (only?) defensive player and he doesn't move nearly as well as he once did. LeBron has slipped defensively and I'm not sure guarding more wings this season will help. Even if they make the Finals, which is quite plausible, it's hard to see them beating a top-tier West team.
2. Contender or pretender: Washington Wizards?
Adande: Pretender. They fared better than expected without Bradley Beal. But is he ready to lead them to a championship now that he's back? Is John Wall ready? I like where this team is at. I just don't like their championship chances.
Arnovitz: Pretender. This is a strong defensive team with well-defined roles. But Washington works awfully hard to get quality looks in the half court. Too often, a flurry of movement during the first 15 seconds of a possession produces nothing more than a garden-variety post-up for Nene 17 feet from the hoop. Maybe that changes with Beal back in the lineup. It would be fun if it did.
Elhassan: Pretender. While Washington's defense is legit, the Wizards struggle to score efficiently. Beal has played only one game this season, but his shot selection hasn't exactly been exemplary throughout his young career, either. You have to consider them a tough playoff out, but unless Beal takes a big step forward like Klay Thompson, they can't generate enough offense to make it into the NBA's final four.
Gutierrez: Pretender. The Wiz seem to have the pieces. But the sum of the parts doesn't seem to match the level of talent. Perhaps because the pieces don't necessarily fit. Or because Wall and Beal, while very good, aren't great. And someone has to be great on a true contender.
Strauss: Pretender. They've beaten only bad Eastern Conference teams. I like their defense, but their offense remains clogged. I should add that, as with the Cavs, I wouldn't be shocked if the Wizards made the Finals. It's just that, given the disparity between conferences this season, I don't think making the Finals equates to contender status.
3. Contender or pretender: Portland Trail Blazers?
Adande: Contender. They're still successful even though they can't catch teams off guard the way they did early last season. They've tightened their defense. They got their playoff baptism from the San Antonio Spurs, who probably taught the Blazers more by smoking them in the second round than Portland learned by beating Houston in the first round.
Arnovitz: Contender, so long as they stay in relatively good health. This was supposed to be a consolidation season, but some interesting stuff has emerged. The offensive efficiency has always been there, but the defense has been solid this season, which wasn't the case much of 2013-14. The much-maligned bench is also killing opponents, and the Blazers' four primary reserves lead the team in net rating. The West is wide open, and the Blazers are in the thick of it.
Elhassan: Pretender! While the Blazers boast one of the best and most complete starting fives in the league, bench depth is still a very real problem. Beyond Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, the Blazers' bench rotation has been a revolving door of "whoever's got it going," with no player definitively claiming the spot. That indicates that coach Terry Stotts hasn't totally trusted any one of them, and while that strategy has worked so far, it will only take the Blazers so far.
Gutierrez: Pretender. The Blazers started off last season strong as well, but what we learned is they're just not deep enough, and too jump-shot oriented to win consistently at a high level. There's not much different about this year's group.
Strauss: Contender. Hey, if they've really improved that defense, what's stopping them? They've changed their scheme a bit, using more help defense on drives, and it seems to be working. I'm pretty reductive when it comes to contention. If you're top 10 in both offense and defense, I usually think you can pull it off. The Blazers can achieve this.
4. Contender or pretender: Houston Rockets?
Adande: Pretender. Their victories have been as disappointing as their losses lately. Barely beating Philadelphia at home with the 76ers on a back-to-back and squeaking by the depleted Thunder while Dwight Howard's manhood is questioned by a guy who's spent more time in a walking boot than on the court this season doesn't pass the championship sniff test. The one caveat: They match up well with San Antonio.
Arnovitz: Contender. I'm not ruling out any of the West's top half this season, because I think we're in a strange NFL/MLB-type season where a third of the league has a serious shot if it stays healthy. With Patrick Beverly, Trevor Ariza and a healthy Howard, this is an elite defense. James Harden can be hard to watch, but he manufactures offense. With a little more production from the 4 spot and a few more buckets from Ariza, it's all there.
Elhassan: Pretender!! The Rockets also suffer from a lack of depth. The ability to bring Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin off the bench last season was a luxury -- an expensive luxury, but a luxury nonetheless. While Kostas Papanikolaou has been a pleasant surprise, the bench has been inconsistent (especially on the defensive end) and limited. Like the Blazers, they'll have to pray for a healthy top seven come playoff time.
Gutierrez: Pretenders. Houston's largest void is at the power forward position, and with Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and the rest of the West PFs lurking, Houston will need to improve at that spot to put itself over the top.
Strauss: Pretender. This one is tough for me because I think the Rockets can theoretically be top 10 in both offense and defense. There's just one nagging concern: They're really thin. The lack of depth is part of why Kevin McHale plays his stars too many minutes, which could bite them in the end. Unless Daryl Morey makes a move, I don't see it.
5. Contender or pretender: Los Angeles Clippers?
Adande: Pretender. At this point we can't even lock them into the playoffs, let alone plan a parade route. If they decide they want to commit to defense and dedicate themselves to pounding the ball inside instead of firing up jumpers, they might be able to switch labels.
Arnovitz: Contender, if they can find someone, either internally or externally, on the wing to defend. The same personnel for the most part finished No. 7 in defensive efficiency last season and No. 1 on offense, enough to station the Clips as preseason contenders. They need to address what they're doing at small forward , but this team is more likely to rip off 15 of 19 than to sputter along as the No. 7 or 8 seed into the All-Star break.
Elhassan: PRETENDER!!! Something is very wrong in Clipperland, and it's not just atrocious perimeter defense
MIAMI -- Chris Paul had 26 points and 12 assists, Blake Griffin added 26 points and the Los Angeles Clippers wasted no time in taking control on the way to a 110-93 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday night.
DeAndre Jordan scored 12 points -- on six shots, all dunks -- and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Clippers (7-4), who led 39-15 after one quarter.
Dwyane Wade missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained left hamstring. The Heat are 5-3 when Wade plays this season, 1/3 when he doesn't.
Ten games into the season, the Clippers have sputtered to a 6-4 start, with the wins at times looking more damning than the losses. Their net rating (spread between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions) of two points is an accurate reflection of a team that still is potent offensively (ninth in offensive rating) but has experienced a tremendous drop-off in defensive efficiency (from top 10 last season to bottom 10 this season).
How does a team returning most of its personnel experience such a drop-off without injury concerns? Obviously, part of that can be explained by small sample size. Ten games is not enough to draw any definitive conclusions. However, the role of the front office is to balance patience by keeping a view of the big picture while remaining vigilant by noticing issues on the horizon and correcting for them. For the Clippers' front office, the issue on the horizon already is here, and it comes in the form of terrible perimeter defense.
Here's a look at the team's defensive troubles on the perimeter and potential in-house and external solutions.