- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- The smiles returned to the Los Angeles Clippers' sideline Sunday night.
The locker room once again turned into "Lob City Day Care," and Blake Griffin once again video bombed his teammates being interviewed.
It had been eight days since the Clippers last won a game. They were in the midst of a four-game losing streak without Chris Paul and had just blown a nine-point lead at Portland in a matter of two minutes the previous night.
This was a team in desperate need of a win -- any win -- and they got just that and maybe a little bit more after their 96-83 win over the Trail Blazers.
There have been wins this season that the Clippers haven't been particularly proud of. Wins that they didn't exactly deserve, but simply stole late based on a lucky bounce here or there or their sheer athleticism. This was not one of those wins.
The Clippers were up by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter as the bench was finally able to let loose and be themselves once again.
"When this team has fun, that's when we're at our best," said Jamal Crawford, who had nine points and five assists. "When we play with spirit, everybody gets involved somewhere. To have 33 assists and to have everybody involved like that and everybody standing up like that when something good happens, that is who we are. That's the way we were at the beginning of the season and we are getting back to it now."
It's no coincidence that the Clippers have their most fun when they are most active on the defensive end. The Clippers forced Portland into 19 turnovers that resulted in 18 points and held the Blazers to 43.9 percent shooting from the field and just 20 percent (3-for-15) from beyond the arc. When the Clippers can force teams into bad shots, cause turnovers, score in transition and throw in a lob dunk or two, that is when they are at their best.
"It's about doing the little things and one of them is playing defense," said Lamar Odom, who had 13 rebounds, with 11 coming on the defensive glass. "We got so many guys here that can have big nights offensively and share the ball ... Whenever we get at it defensively, that's our happy place."
Griffin has found his own happy place over the past two games, averaging 23.5 points and 9.5 assists with Paul out. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Griffin has had to play more of a point forward position and has taken on more of a vocal role on the court with Paul out.
"Our lead assist guy is not around so we have to run some things more so through Blake at the elbow and let him make plays for us," Del Negro said. "He draws so much attention but he's unselfish and he's making the good basketball plays and making other players better. That's what all stars do in this league."
It's a role Griffin doesn't mind taking on in the interim with Paul and Chauncey Billups, the Clippers' starting backcourt, still out indefinitely, but it's one he knows is a short-term fix to what he hopes will be a short-term problem.
"Chris is a huge part of our team," Griffin said. "He directs the game from the point guard spot. He has the ball in his hands 85 percent of our offense. When he goes out, our whole dynamic changes, other guys have stepped up. Jamal has done a great job; Eric Bledsoe has done a great job. It's everybody's job on this team to step up and that's what I've tried to do."
If Paul is out for some or the majority of the Clippers' upcoming 14-day, eight-game trip, which begins Wednesday in Minneapolis and ends next Monday in Philadelphia, every player on the Clippers will have to step up. It was one thing when Paul was out for the Clippers' last three-game trip, but the dreaded "Grammy trip," where the Staples Center's tenants leave the building for two weeks to make way for the annual Grammy awards, usually makes or breaks a season.
No one knows that better than Odom, who would usually know what kind of team the Lakers had following the long trip. A good trip resulted in three straight trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back titles while a bad trip meant a first- or second-round exit.
"Mentally, it's tough," Odom said. "It's 14 days and eight games and you kind know where you are after this trip and what you need to work on and how mentally tough you are because these games are going to be tough. We have to go to Boston, Orlando, Miami and New York, but we need it. We need those kinds of test after that little run we had."
Odom wouldn't put a number on what a successful Grammy trip would be for the Clippers but smiled when he was reminded that they responded to their last four-game losing streak with 17 straight wins.
Griffin wouldn't go so far as to say the Clippers would duplicate the streak but he didn't think a nine-game winning streak was out of the realm of possibility.
"Our expectation is to win them all," Griffin said. "That's our mindset. We're capable of doing that."
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss