The Los Angeles Clippers are riding a 14-game winning streak and moving fast.
LOS ANGELES -- Players will tell you that the coolest thing about a hot streak is the inertia. It’s a total ride. As pro athletes, they’re contractually obligated to play down the importance of The Streak as a numeric event. They’ll say The Streak doesn’t mean anything in the larger scheme of a season, but they’ll also acknowledge that living inside The Streak feels different.
After the Clippers’ 11th straight win last Wednesday, Paul described The Streak as inhabiting a world in which the food tastes better, the music sounds better and you sleep more restfully. To Paul’s point, riding The Streak is a transporting experience.
“It does feel like we’re moving somewhere,” Jamal Crawford said.
“It’s good for us,” Matt Barnes said. “We just want to continue to move in the right direction.”
The Streak is like being zipped on a high-speed bullet train, gliding across a landscape at exhilarating speeds from a place you’ve been to a place you want to go. The Clippers have been eager to make such a trip -- from the league’s upper-middle class to the ranks of the elite.
After an 8-6 start that included some real thuds, the Clippers have now traveled to the top of the NBA standings after notching their league-high 14th consecutive win Tuesday, a 112-100 thumping of the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. With Oklahoma City’s loss at Miami earlier in the day, the Clippers now boast the NBA’s best record at 22-6.
“It’s a mindset of coming out from the beginning and jumping on them defensively, bringing that intensity,” Blake Griffin said. “When we’re at our best, our starters have a great first quarter, then our bench comes in and elevates that. Then our starters come back in and it’s just a tag team.”
Want the crib notes for what has occurred over these past 14 games for the Clippers? Take a peek at the second-quarter play-by-play Tuesday night for a composite. The Clippers scored on 20 of their 27 possessions in the period, including their last 11 trips down the floor.
“I didn’t even realize that,” Griffin said.
“I did not know that,” Paul said simultaneously. “I would’ve never known that unless you said that. That’s crazy.”
Over the first three minutes of that crazy second quarter, the Clippers’ second team, one of the league’s most efficient units (plus-20.4 points per 100 possessions), forced three Denver turnovers and ended another possession with a block. When Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan assumed their starting roles to close the quarter, the Clippers’ trapeze act began.
Paul leapt in the air, twirled, then threw a pass across his body to a trailing Barnes, who finished with a slam. Then Griffin pointed in the air with his index finger, the universal signal in Clipper Nación for “feed me at the rim.” Barnes obliged with a pretty lob from just inside midcourt. Then Paul and Griffin teamed up for a balletic pick-and-roll, off which Paul set up Griffin with a pinpoint bounce pass. Griffin scooped it up, skied through the lane and jammed it home. Then the Clippers closed the half when, with only 6.3 seconds left on the clock, they pushed the ball upcourt, where Crawford saw Jordan flash the universal signal. Lob and jam.
“They’re probably the biggest and most athletic team -- combination of size and athleticism -- in basketball,” Nuggets coach George Karl said prior to the game. “They love to dunk. We like to dunk, but they might love to dunk.”
It hasn’t been all pyrotechnics for the Clippers over the course of The Streak. A team that had its fair share of mental lapses last season is playing an intelligent brand of basketball.
Take a routine possession in the third quarter with the Clippers on a secondary break. The ball found its way to Caron Butler, who had an open 3-pointer, but the veteran saw teammate Willie Green in the right corner all alone. So Butler gladly passed up a 37.8 percent shot (his mark on 3-pointers above the break) for a 48.3 percent one (Green’s accuracy on corner-3s).
“We talked about it in the huddle,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Caron made a really good, unselfish play and that’s winning basketball, making that extra play.”
After the game, Paul and Griffin characteristically downplayed the streak. Paul alluded to the 22-game winning streak of the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, a team that ultimately bowed out in the first round of the postseason after Yao Ming suffered an injury. Paul also cited his New Orleans Hornets team from that same season.
“We went 56-26,” Paul said. “I’ll never forget that season. I felt like we should’ve won the championship that season, and I remember right before the playoffs started, our team met and we said, ‘We are an unbelievable team. We can’t see [another] team beating us four out of seven games.’”
Those Hornets ultimately bowed out in the conference semifinals in a hard-fought and gut-wrenching seven-game series to San Antonio.
“That was my third year in the league and I was like, ‘I’ll be in this position every year. I’ll have a chance to win every year,’” Paul said. “But no, you’re not on teams like that every year. Trades happen. Injuries happen. That’s why you have to savor these moments and not let them just blow away. So I’m thankful and grateful to be on a team like I am this year.”