Clippers know they have a tough road ahead

January, 12, 2013
1/12/13
6:34
PM PT
Jameer Nelson, Chris Paul Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Chris Paul says he knows things will be tough for the Clippers on their three-game trip.

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul is an NBA League Pass addict.

While some players like to get away from basketball when they're not playing, Paul is normally transfixed to his television or iPad.

He can recite the NBA standings and the upcoming league schedule by memory.

He makes sure he's not alone. He will quiz his 3-year-old son, Chris II, on the league while they are watching games together.

"Memphis," Paul will say.

"Grizzlies!" his son will shout.

"Who plays center for the Lakers?" Paul will ask.

"Dwight Howard!" his son will answer.

Even when Paul is sitting on the bench, watching his Los Angeles Clippers play, he will often feel as if he's watching a game from the previous night.

That was the case Saturday as the Clippers went up by 13 points only to watch the Orlando Magic come back after trailing the entire game to win 104-101 and snap the Clippers' 13-game home winning streak.

"When I'm playing in a game, sometimes I feel like I'm at home watching the game on League Pass," Paul said. "You'll be watching the game and a team will be up by 22, and the next thing you know, they're up five. You hate to let that happen when you're actually involved in the game, but it happens."

It happened to the Clippers on Saturday largely because they attempted (and made) only six free throws as a team. In fact, the Clippers' starters and four of their reserves combined to shoot just one free throw. Meanwhile, the Magic were 15-of-19 from the free throw line. Orlando also had 22 second-chance points compared to seven for the Clippers.

"We only shot six free throws," Paul said. "That's unheard of, especially when Blake [Griffin] shoots 22 shots and he shoots no free throws. That's not typical for us. I play on the perimeter, but he plays inside. He can shoot two free throws on accident."

Another reason for the Clippers' lackluster performance was the play of their normally potent bench, which welcomed Grant Hill for the first time this season. The Clippers' bench was outscored by Orlando's 37-33, with Hill contributing two points in six minutes. It's only the 10th time this season the Clippers' bench has been outscored.

"This is something we've been talking about all season," Paul said. "There have been many games where we didn't get off to a great start, and our bench has carried us all year long. Today was one of those days where we didn't get it going and our bench didn't necessarily have it tonight. It is nights like this where we have to feed off each other, and tonight we didn't do that."

The Clippers thought they were past games like this -- games in which they would squander a double-digit lead to a 12-23 team in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. The Clippers had won 13 straight home games after losing earlier in the season to Cleveland and New Orleans at home. Clippers players and coaches credited those losses with helping them grow and build a home-court edge.

On Saturday, all of that crumbled in the span of 60 seconds at the end of the game.

"An embarrassing performance for us today," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We got outworked in every aspect."

Paul occasionally cites lessons he learned from Monty Williams, who was his coach in New Orleans and is a former teammate of Del Negro. Williams preached the importance of storing away as many wins as possible early in the season because you never want to look at the final standings and blame a bad loss in January for why you didn't win the division or are playing a Game 7 on the road in the playoffs.

Saturday's loss likely won't cost the Clippers the division and it likely won't cost them a top-four seed, but the race for the best record in the Western Conference is so tight that it's entirely possible they could look back on this game to explain why they don't have home court against Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Memphis.

In fact, if they don't take care of business on their upcoming three-game trip (during which they face Houston, Memphis and Minnesota in four days), they easily could go from having the best record in the NBA entering this weekend to falling to third or fourth in the West.

No one needed to explain that to Paul, who is fully aware of the Clippers' place in the standings and the importance of this upcoming trip.

"Tonight's loss put us at nine losses, and I watched Memphis' game against San Antonio last night and they have 10 losses now, so that puts them at 24-10," Paul said. "San Antonio is 28-11 now, and everybody is right there neck and neck. It's going to be tough."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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