Los Angeles Clippers: Nuggets

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 92, Clippers 78

January, 1, 2013

Before leaving for Denver, Chris Paul was reminded that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was on the last NBA team that went 16-0 in a calendar month. Del Negro’s 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs went undefeated in March and won 17 straight games before losing their next game.

“So you’re saying it’s not a good sign for us?” Paul said as he prepared to win No. 18. “We’ll blame it on that if things don’t go well in Denver.”

Things didn’t end up going well for the Clippers in Denver, as their 17-game winning streak was snapped following a 92-78 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers’ shortcomings in the game, however, had more to do with a lack of energy and turnovers than anything Del Negro did or didn’t do.

Paul was uncharacteristically careless with the ball, finishing with three of the Clippers' 15 turnovers, and the team fell behind by as many as 18 points late, with the game quickly getting away in the fourth quarter.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

It had to end

Maybe the Clippers were simply bracing themselves for the inevitable, but before the game many players were realistic about the odds of their streak continuing past this week, with back-to-back road games against Denver and the Golden State Warriors, then back-to-back home games against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Warriors. Sure, they wanted the streak to continue, but at some point they knew they had to come back to reality and be happy going 3-1 over this stretch. “We know we’re not going to win the next 50 games,” Jamal Crawford said. “At some point, we’re going to lose and we understand that. We just want to get better each game.” The question for the Clippers now is how they will respond to their first loss since November.

Griffin’s slump

Blake Griffin had a solid December, which was one of the biggest reasons the Clippers were able to win 17 games in a row. But he has struggled in his past two games. He had seven points and seven rebounds against the Utah Jazz on Dec. 30, and heading into the fourth quarter against Denver he had just eight points and six rebounds on Tuesday. Griffin finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and had nine rebounds, but he simply wasn’t able to produce when the Clippers needed him most. He wasn’t alone. All of the Clippers struggled to get anything going offensively, hitting only 38.5 percent from the field, 17.2 percent from the 3-point line, and a dreadful 44.8 percent from the free throw line.

A Tribe Called Bench

It wasn’t a terrible night for the Clippers' bench, which finished with 36 points. But considering the starters scored only 42 points, this was one of those games during which the Clippers needed their second team to exceed their league-leading season average of 42.2 points per game. Crawford, who is averaging 16.5 points this season, had nine points on 2-of-11 shooting and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. As good as the bench has played this season, it get very little offense from Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, who combined for six points on Tuesday. The return of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups -- who will push Willie Green to the bench -- should help.

Clippers look to keep streak alive

January, 1, 2013
Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro knows at some point the Clippers’ 17-game winning streak will come to an end. As well as the Clippers have been playing in completing just the third ever 16-0 month in NBA history, he knows his team won’t finish the season 76-6.

Whenever that day comes, Del Negro isn’t worried about how his team will react to their first loss since November. He believes the way the Clippers started the season -- going 8-6 while beating teams like the Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs (twice), Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls (twice) -- was actually more impressive than the Clippers’ current streak, which has largely come against lesser competition.

“Everyone talks about the streak that we’re on but I thought the way we handled the early part of the season with our schedule was big,” Del Negro said. “We had one of the hardest schedules in the league and we were beating teams then with a group that wasn’t complete in terms of [not having] Chauncey [Billups], Grant [Hill] and Lamar [Odom]. We were still finding ways to win early on. I thought that was a bigger key, to be honest with you, than the last month or so.”

Del Negro actually points to two home losses the Clippers had early in the season as a potential turning point in their season. While the Clippers were beating the best teams in the NBA, they were also defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets at home and gave up over 100 points to each team, something they’ve only done seven times all season.

“Maybe the two losses early in the season against teams we could have beat at home and we didn’t handle the right way, we learned something from that,” Del Negro said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again. Hopefully it doesn’t. But I think this group is figuring out a way we need to play to give ourselves the best result and the most consistency.”

Players discussed the streak amongst themselves as they neared breaking the franchise record of 12, but the streak hasn’t been talked about much since they surpassed that mark last month. It’s not that they don’t care about the streak, but they understand it will end sooner or later, and how they respond to that first loss in over a month is just as important as how they played during the streak.

“We’re honestly just trying to get better,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “At some point, we know we’re not going to win the next 50 games. At some point, we’re going to lose and we understand that. We just want to get better each game . . . The early struggles we had give us something to draw from. How we bounced back after losing four in a row was big. If that hadn’t happened there might be a curiosity of how we would have responded but I think we’re in good shape, having gone through what we went through.”

The significance of the streak, however, isn’t lost on anyone on the Clippers. If they can defeat the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday for their 18th straight win, they will join the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 1981-82 Boston Celtics and 1969-70 New York Knicks, teams that also won 18 straight before losing. The Clippers currently have the ninth-longest streak in NBA history. And of the eight teams ahead of the Clippers, five of them went on to win the NBA title and two others advanced to the conference finals.

Clippers players will often peek at the NBA standings, which are posted in their locker room at Staples Center. The one thing players have often pointed out during the streak is as well as they’re playing, the rest of the West is playing just as well. Despite winning 17 straight games, the Clippers are just a half game ahead of Oklahoma City and one game in front of San Antonio. The Clippers aren’t just trying to keep the streak alive; they’re trying to stay ahead of the Thunder and Spurs. Both teams could easily move ahead of the Clippers in a matter of hours if the Clippers slip up.

“It’s not something where we say, ‘We got to keep the streak going,’” Del Negro said. “We got to keep the streak going because we want to win the basketball game . . . Obviously the streak is great, don’t get me wrong, but we’re thinking bigger than the streak.”

Clippers to open preseason Oct. 6 in Vegas

June, 25, 2012
The Los Angeles Clippers will tip off their 2012 preseason schedule on Oct. 6 with a game against the Denver Nuggets at the Mandalay Bay Events Center inside the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, the team announced Monday.

The game will mark the first time an NBA preseason or regular season game has been played on The Strip in Las Vegas.

“We couldn't be more excited about our evolving partnership with Mandalay Bay,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said. “We can't wait to get back on the court next season and build on the success of our 2012 playoff run. This preseason game in Las Vegas will be the first step in what we hope will be a very special season.”

Tickets for the game will go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

What to watch: Clippers-Nuggets

April, 18, 2012
Clippers (38-23) vs. Denver Nuggets (34-27) at Pepsi Center, 6 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Playoff time: The Clippers clinched a playoff berth Monday night even before they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's the Clippers first playoff trip since the 2005-06 season, officially ending the second-longest active playoff drought in the NBA. The Clippers were won a playoff series against the Denver Nuggets in 2006 before they were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games. That was their only postseason series win since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, and the second in franchise history. This will be their fifth playoff appearance since 1976, when they were the Buffalo Braves.

2. Rarefied air: The Clippers are 15 games over .500 (38-23) this season. It's the third time the Clippers have been more than five games over .500 this many games into a season since moving to L.A. They finished the season eight games over .500 in 1991-92 and 12 games over .500 in 2005-06. The Clippers already surpassed their victory total from last season on April 5, and their 38 wins are the most for the club since winning 40 in 2006-07. The Clippers' 38-23 record this season after 61 games is the second-best in franchise history, trailing the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves, who were 39-22 after 61 games.

3. On the road again: The Clippers close out the season by playing four of their last five games on the road, including two sets of road back to backs. This season the Clippers are 15-14 (.517) on the road. The Clippers are attempting to finish the season with a .500 or better road record for the first time since moving to L.A. The most road wins for the L.A. Clippers was 20 when they went 20-21 in 2005-06. The Clippers rank third in the league in road attendance, just behind the Miami Heat and the Lakers.

4. Hot team: Since March 24, the Clippers have won 12 of their last 14, which equals the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA during that stretch. The Clippers earned their most recent win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 92-77. It was the Clippers' 18th win this season against a team in playoff position, which puts the Clippers in the top five in the league with wins against such teams. The Clippers’ current winning percentage (.626) would easily be the best in franchise history, surpassing the Buffalo Braves, which finished with a .598 winning percentage during the 1974-75 season.

5. Comeback team: The Clippers came back from an 11-point deficit on Monday night to beat Oklahoma City. It was the 12th victory for the Clippers this season when they have been trailing by double-figures, which is one of the best records in the league. The biggest difference during the Clippers' recent winning streak has been their defense. They held Oklahoma City to a season-low 77 points and held the trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha to just five points in the second half and scoreless in the third quarter. The Clippers are one of the top teams this season when allowing 95 or fewer points. The Clippers are one of the top five teams this season when allowing 95 or fewer points with a 26-5 record.

Chris Paul to the rescue

February, 23, 2012
Chris PaulHarry How/Getty ImagesChris Paul scored 36 points Wednesday and certainly was motivated by his and the Clippers' recent failings.

LOS ANGELES – This time the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t let their late lead slip away.

This time they hit their shots down the stretch and didn’t turn over the ball.

This time Chris Paul showed up when it counted most.

The Clippers don’t always want to have to depend on Paul in the fourth quarter to bail them out and essentially be their closer.

Then again, what we want sometimes isn’t always what we get, and the Clippers more often than not have been content to put the game in the hands of Paul and let the chips fall where they may.

It’s not a bad strategy when you have arguably the game’s best pure point guard on your team, but it’s not always a guarantee for success as the Clippers found out in blowing late leads against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors before defeating the Denver Nuggets, 103-95, on Wednesday to prevent their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Paul just didn’t come up big in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points and dishing two assists; he was a force from the second quarter on, scoring a season-high 36 points to go along with nine assists and two steals.

“He was on tonight, I didn’t know he had 36,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “Chris is always big for us in the fourth quarter, but tonight he was on, scoring, dishing the ball, playing defense, he was all around good for us.”

Sometimes, however, Paul and Blake Griffin can be so good in the fourth quarter that the rest of the team turn into high-paid spectators as was the case in the Clippers’ back-to-back losses heading into Wednesday night. Even in Wednesday's win, Paul and Griffin combined for 41 of the Clippers’ 56 second-half points.

(Read full post)

What to watch: Clippers-Nuggets

February, 22, 2012

Clippers (19-11) vs. Denver Nuggets (18-15) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Closing out: The Clippers had prided themselves on closing out games this season with Chris Paul on the court. They had come back from 18 down against the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, 15 down against the San Antonio Spurs at home and had comeback from at least 10 points down in six games since Jan. 29. In their first back-to-back losses since December, however, the Clippers squandered late leads with Paul being the primary culprit. They blew a 95-92 lead with 9.5 seconds left to the Spurs when Paul inexplicably threw the ball to a wide-open Gary Neal for the game-tying three-pointer and the Spurs won in overtime. Against the Warriors, the Clippers were up 97-95 with 2:07 left in the game before the Warriors closed out the game with a 9-0 run to win. Paul, who had five turnovers against Golden State, did not score in the fourth quarter and went 0-for-4 from the field. “The fourth quarter is when leaders have to step up and I didn’t,” Paul said. “I had way too many turnovers.”

2. Three in a row: After not losing back-to-back games in 2012, the Clippers will now try to prevent losing three straight for the first time this season and for the first time since April 9, 2011. The Clippers had actually circled Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets on the calendar long before their recent struggles and it had nothing to do with the fact that it is the last game before the All-Star break. Denver beat the Clippers 112-91 on Feb. 2 in the Clippers’ most lopsided loss at home this season and Paul wants to return the favor in the rubber match after the teams’ split the first two games on each others' home floors. “We have to come out and give a good showing against Denver, we owe those guys,” Paul said. “What better way to go into the All-Star break than with a win. We have to win… They beat us here at home and we need to get this win for our minds going into All-Star break.”

3. Mo-mentum: Lost in the midst of the Clippers’ two-game losing streak has been the play of Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Mo Williams. Against the Warriors, Williams hit six three-pointers, nailing his first six attempts, and scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to give the Clippers the lead late before they froze up and failed to score another point. It was Williams’ first time hitting six three-pointers in a game since April 8, 2010 and ninth time he’s hit that many threes in a contest. This season, Williams is averaging 13.8 points and 3.3 assists. The Clippers’ bench has scored a total of 682 points this year with Williams’ 360 points accounting for 52.7% of the production.

4. Injury bug: Outside of losing Chauncey Billups for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Clippers’ current roster is relatively healthy heading into the last game before the break. The same can’t be said for the struggling Nuggets. Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain), Nene (left calf strain) and Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) will all miss Wednesday night's game while Ty Lawson (left ankle sprain) will be a game-time decision. After the Clippers lost Billups for the season, his former Nuggets teammate Kenyon Martin made his debut for Los Angeles and the team went after J.R. Smith hard before he ended up signing with the New York Knicks. If Billups had been healthy and Smith had signed with the Clippers, Nuggets coach George Karl could have been looking at a lineup Wednesday night similar to the one he took the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

5. Blake show: Against the Warriors, Blake Griffin had 21 points and 9 rebounds. It was only the second time since Feb. 4 that he hasn’t had 10 or more rebounds in a game. During that stretch he hasn’t reached at least 20 points only twice. The last game Griffin failed to reach 20 points or 10 rebounds was Feb. 2 when the Clippers lost to the Nuggets and Griffin finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds, his season in low in rebounds. Griffin trails only Kevin Love this season in 20-point, 10-rebound games and is the only player this season averaging over 21 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

'Beat L.A.!' not just a Lakers chant

February, 21, 2012
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – “Beat L.A.!”

Chris Paul had heard the chant several times last year when the New Orleans Hornets played the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. He grew up hearing the chant whenever he would watch the Lakers play on the road and he no doubt thought he might hear the chant during the two minutes or so he was supposedly on the Lakers.

Paul, however, has started to hear the chant every time the Clippers are on the road and it is one of the many signs he says he thinks the perception of the Clippers is beginning to change.

“I’m starting to hear that a lot,” Paul said. “It’s funny because our New Orleans fans used to chant that all the time against the Lakers. It makes the game that much more exciting. It's good.”

This season the Clippers are the biggest draw in the NBA on the road, averaging 19,441, putting them ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers (19,126), Miami Heat (18,973) and Boston Celtics (18,076).

“That’s how it’s going to be,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said. “Every game this season, and this is something new for me, is sold out and fans are there cheering an hour or so before the game. That’s great, that’s something this team hasn’t had and something this city has never seen from this team.”

Foye has even started seeing a change in the way opposing teams at home act when they play the Clippers; perhaps feeding off the energy of the sold our crowd.

(Read full post)

Caron Butler out against the Jazz

February, 1, 2012
Los Angeles Clippers forward Caron Butler sat out Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz with a sore lower back and is listed as day-to-day.

Butler had previously missed a Jan. 20 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a hyperextended right knee but returned the lineup two days later. Butler missed 53 games last season with the Dallas Mavericks after he suffered a ruptured right patellar tendon and had said his goal this season was not to miss any games.

The coaching staff was aware of Butler’s sore back during shootaround and decided to hold him out after he was still sore before the start of the game. He is listed as questionable for the Clippers’ game Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.

Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe was also inactive Wednesday as he continues to recover from offseason surgery on his right knee. He made his season debut Monday when he played the final minute of the Clippers’ 112-100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, missing his one shot attempt.

Billups comes up big in homecoming

January, 29, 2012
Chauncey Billups said it didn’t matter. He claimed it was just another game against a conference opponent. He tried hard to drive the message home before returning home to play the Denver Nuggets and even after he led the Los Angeles Clippers to their biggest road win of the season, 109-105, Sunday night.

But this was more than just a big win for the Clippers.

It was a big win for Billups.

That much was evident as Billups, who scored 32 points, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc, was hugged by his teammates after the game and smiled when Chris Paul walked up behind him and yelled, “32! 32!” while he was being interviewed on the court.

It was Billups’ first game back in Denver after being traded by the Nuggets to the New York Knicks as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. He never wanted to go and Denver wanted him to go but business is business in the NBA.

Denver welcomed him back with a standing ovation. The Nuggets’ public address announcer introduced him as “still the King of Park Hill.” Billups even got a pre-game hug from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow on the court before the game.

By the time the game was over, however, Denver fans couldn’t wait until Billups got back on the team plane with the Clippers and flew back to his new home in Los Angeles.

Billups kept the Clippers in the game early and late, even as the Nuggets went on run after run in the second half and took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

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