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Clippers control the division but want more

1/6/2013

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers franchise has never won anything.

This is not a shocking revelation, but it makes their place in the standings, and specifically in the Pacific Division, that much more significant at the moment.

After the Clippers’ 115-89 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and their 107-102 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, the Clippers have a four-game lead on the Warriors and a 10.5-game lead on the Lakers in the Pacific Division. Their 27-8 record is the best in the NBA.

Of course, there is still plenty of basketball left to be played. But for a team that has never finished higher than second in the division or third in the conference or won more than 49 games in a season, these are unprecedented times in Lob City.

In some ways, given their past two opponents, the Clippers' two-game winning streak is more significant than their 17-game streak that was recently snapped. This was the Clippers’ opportunity to establish themselves as the team to beat in the Pacific by vanquishing the Lakers and the Warriors ... and they did just that in impressive fashion.

But don’t look for the Clippers to be patting themselves on the back for taking control of the division and having the best record in the league 35 games into the season. Despite being in uncharted territory, the Clippers are not planning on wearing division championship hats or raising a division championship banner at the end of the season.

They have bigger goals than that. These wins might widen the gap between them and their division rivals, but the Clippers view them more as wins that will help them with their seeding come playoff time.

“These are very key games,” said Chris Paul, who had 27 points, nine assists and five rebounds Saturday. “Because when it comes down to the last week of the season and you see who is winning and losing, it plays a huge part.”

As Blake Griffin stood in the locker room Saturday night, he didn’t flinch when asked about the significance of Saturday’s win after two previous losses to the Warriors.

“It was a business win for us,” Griffin said. “This is how we've won a lot of games. We wanted to take care of it early and we did.

“We’re just looking for wins. If they come within the division, then that’s whatever. It’s great to be able to win your division at the end of the year and all that, I guess, but it’s important for us to take care of business during the year.”

Griffin’s blasé attitude toward winning the division and the Clippers’ hot start is a product of being in a locker room with Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Ronny Turiaf, who have won championships and know that division titles and regular-season records don’t mean much in the offseason if you lose in the second round.

Paul doesn’t need anyone to tell him that. He already experienced that in 2008, when he was on the New Orleans Hornets team that went 56-26, won the Southwest Division and was the second seed in the West, only to get bounced in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs.

That was the best team Paul had ever played on before this season, and he often reminds his teammates to remember their ultimate goal. And like all great players, he has a long memory when he feels he or his team has been disrespected, and he certainly felt the Clippers were in the previous two losses against Golden State.

“They beat us twice,” Paul said. “The first time they beat us here, you would have thought they won the NBA Finals. And then they beat us up there pretty handily. We knew we wanted to protect our home court. You always remember those types of things.”

The Clippers went up by as many as 39 points in the second half, highlighted by three consecutive lob dunks to DeAndre Jordan, which prompted Warriors coach Mark Jackson to call a timeout and glare at the Clippers' bench for a good 20 seconds.

“What you’ve got to do as a player or coach, soak it in and remember it. Mark it down with permanent ink,” Jackson said. “Nothing upset me. They earned the right to celebrate with the way they played. It was just a good, old-fashioned, heavyweight championship stare-down, that’s all.”

And like all good championship fights, the Clippers know stare-downs don’t really mean too much as long as you can deliver the knockout punch in the end.