Clippers begining to change road image

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
10:43
AM PT
The Clippers have never finished with a winning record on the road.

Never.

Even last season, as Chris Paul was changing the face of the franchise and breaking team records seemingly on a nightly basis the Clippers still lost more games (17) on the road than they won (16)

It is one of the few remaining blemishes for a franchise trying to reinvent itself.

It is also something the Clippers are looking to erase, as they have become one of the best road teams in the league this season.

The Clippers were tied for the best overall record and the best road record in the NBA through the first half of the season but have dipped a bit recently into third and fourth respectively. They currently own the fourth best road record in the NBA (13-8) and are well on their way to finishing with the franchise’s first-ever winning season away from home.

There is, however, one road trip the Clippers have had circled on their calendar since the beginning of the season. They would certainly never talk about it publicly as they took the generic “one game at a time” approach but the Clippers knew their current 14-day, 8-game road trip (a stretch during which Staples Center is taken over by the Grammy Awards) would be a season-defining moment.

If the Clippers can get through this stretch of games with a winning record they will be in the driver’s seat to finish with one of the top three records in the West and win their first division title. If they stumble and go on another losing streak, it could put them in a position, much like last season, where they will be battling for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Grammy trip, an annual two week road trip for all of Staples Center’s tenants in February, can make or break a season. Lamar Odom said he always knew where the Lakers were as a team by the time they came back from the Grammy trip.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they will have to begin this year’s Grammy trip without their starting backcourt of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, both of whom are still nursing injuries.

“It’s going to be a tough stretch, especially still missing Chris and Chauncey,” Blake Griffin said. “But we’ve shown we’re capable of doing it. We have to have that same intensity.”

The Clippers showed they could not only win on the road but win handily without Paul and Billups two weeks ago when they went 3-0 on a road trip to Memphis, Houston and Minnesota. With Eric Bledsoe and Willie Green starting, they won those games by an average of 14.6 points, including a 26-point drubbing of the Grizzlies.

However, the Clippers also recently lost four straight with the same lineup, including three on the road.

Hoping to reverse that trend, they'll look to take play with intensity early in games, Griffin said: “If you can get in early and keep the crowd out of it and at bay a little bit and steadily go from there it helps a lot. It’s about making a good first impact.”

Vinny Del Negro, meanwhile, will be focusing on late-game situations.

“We have good experience,” Del Negro said. “But we’ve got to learn to win with this group. We have to manage the game, especially in the fourth quarter and try to steal some wins here on the road. It will start with us on the defensive end, if we control our glass and get after it.”

Perhaps the biggest difference on the road for the Clippers this season has been the abundance of Clippers fans that great the team at their hotels and arrive early at the arena wearing their jerseys for their pre-game dunk contests.

“We have a larger fan base on the road,” Griffin said. “But all that brings is a bull’s eye on our back. It’s like when we play at home and the Celtics come to town and you see a lot of Celtics jerseys, we don’t like that. We take that to heart and I’m sure other teams are doing the same thing. When they’re used to not seeing a single Clippers jersey in the stands and now there are four or five. It makes a difference.”

 

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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