1. Clippers Marching On From Trying Times
No chance of that when the little assassin with the bruised right elbow won't even acknowledge that the search for a vaccine was on.
Crisis in Clipperland when CP3 hasn't even been there six months?
"We ain't fixed," Paul insisted, "because we were never broke."
Outsiders will obviously see it differently -- especially if you remember how bleak things looked in his New Orleans homecoming just 11 days ago -- but on the following score we can all agree: Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers suddenly have their December spring back. The Lob City boys oozed energy on offense, hunger on defense and actual, tangible joy at work on this brief trip to Big D, stopping long enough after a 5-0 homestand to inflict a 94-75 pounding on the defending champions and stretch their coach-saving win streak to a tidy six games.
Which suddenly makes Vinny Del Negro the first Clippers coach to win six in a row since Larry Brown in March 1992.
"We're just having fun again," Griffin said. "That's really it. Everybody is just doing their job and guys are just worrying about what they can control. When that happens, sky's the limit for this team."
No chance of us going that far on the basis of one shredding of the up-and-down Dallas Mavericks. Overreacting to any single night in this crazy season is particularly foolish, but even the Clips have to know that this wasn't an occasion for lasting conclusions. Not with Randy Foye, who arrived with a nightly average of not quite 10 points, looking like the long-awaited wing scorer of management's dreams by draining a franchise-record-tying eight 3-pointers. Nor with Dallas announcing before tipoff that a groin injury would render Jason Kidd lost for the week, which not so surprisingly rendered the Mavs' offense unwatchable in the face of some of the most tangible defensive aggression we've seen all season from the Clips' underachieving D.
Yet you can credit the Clips, if nothing else, for an impressive response to adversity. In the wake of my ESPN The Magazine colleague Chris Broussard's report that Del Negro had lost the team and with Donald Sterling's clock ticking so loudly every day with Paul only under contract through June 2013 and Griffin eligible for an extension this summer, L.A.'s fourth-quarter failure to overtake the injury-ravaged New Orleans Hornets in CP3's first-ever game as a visitor to the Crescent City could have easily sent the Clips into a deep, dark spiral. Instead? The first game of a season-defining five straight home dates was the toughest, but they dredged up the requisite spirit to beat Memphis by 16, launching the resurrection that hushed the crisis talk.
The next four teams they toppled (Hornets, Suns, Blazers and Jazz) were hardly world-beaters, true, but the Clips were in no state to scoff at any W after the drubbings they absorbed in Indiana and Oklahoma City, followed by the debacle in the shadows of the French Quarter. Clips forward Caron Butler says now that a team meeting after the New Orleans loss is what prevented the dreaded spiral.
"We should not be trying to find our identity at this point in the season," Butler said. "We should have that already. So we discussed it and we agreed that we've got to get everyone involved. Since then this team's had a totally different disposition. Guys are making the extra pass, we're sharing that ball and that's what we've got goin' right now. When we play defense and share the ball, we're a scary team. With all these weapons, it's tough to load up on Chris and Blake."
Said Griffin: "We had a mindset [after the loss to New Orleans] that this isn't it, this isn't our team, this isn't the team we're gonna be. We've done a good job. I'm proud of the way everybody's playing."
That was evident after the Dallas rout, when Griffin, Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the injured Mo Williams took turns playfully needling Foye about his fantasy night, with 22 of Foye's points coming in the second half alone. And when Foye finally missed a corner 3, Griffin was naturally there to soar above everyone in the key and hammer home a putback you'll be seeing all week.
"He shoulda made one more," Paul barked into the showers amid all the postgame giddiness, referring to Foye's eight triples. "Ain't no point in tyin' the record."
You should also know, for the record, that veteran forwards Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans summoned me at the morning shootaround for a three-man summit to strenuously deny the idea raised in the Weekend Dime that they're in any way at odds. Both were adamant that anyone suggesting otherwise was simply looking for scapegoats after a rocky March.
More for the record: Martin has indeed been a revered teammate pretty much wherever he's played. And Evans' popularity as another first-year Clipper would appear to be cresting given how many other Clippers could be heard before and after tipoff at American Airlines Center making his Pensacola catch phrase their own: "I ain't lyin'."
So Texas was good to the Clippers again. They haven't had a win this impressive, on paper, since ringing up 120 points in a March 9 triumph at mighty San Antonio when Tony Parker was the home-team point guard in street clothes.
Yet if we've learned anything during this lockout-shortened circus of a 66-game schedule, it's that things change fast. Far faster than they do during an 82-game schedule.
Which is another reason why Paul, while making sure that valuable right elbow would be encased and warm for the flight home in advance of Wednesday night's Staples Center showdown with the Lakers, could be heard preaching caution as soon as someone with a tape recorder suggested that the Clips will sail along this smoothly right into the playoffs.
"Can't get satisfied," CP3 said. "One tough week for us and then y'all gonna be asking me, 'How you guys gonna get it back?'"
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Defining moment: With the clock ticking, the Memphis lead shrinking (once nine, suddenly one), and the Thunder surging, Marc Gasol scooped a fumbled ball off the hardwood and shot it across the court to an open O.J. Mayo. "Juice" buried the 3 to give the Griz a 90-86 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
MVP: After their dominant performance on Sunday against the Bulls, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook inspired some lofty, and maybe hyperbolic, praise. Tony Allen tabled that for now. The defensive dynamo bounced between the two All-Stars, holding them to 13-of-36 shooting with eight turnovers. For good measure, he added 15 points and eight rebounds of his own.
X factor: A sporting truism: When your opponent does the thing that you do best better than you do it, you're gonna be hard pressed to win. The Thunder, who hit more from the stripe than any team in the Association, made 17 foul shots on Monday -- eight in the fourth quarter -- to the Grizzlies' 22.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Randy Foye. His eight made 3-pointers say it all. Foye was open all night, whether it be off drive-and-kicks or because of Dallas' occasional use of a zone defense. His 28 points were a season high.
X factor: Spacing. The Clippers didn't have anyone but Foye hitting consistently from long range, but that was all they needed. On the other hand, the Mavericks were ice cold from long range, going 5-for-23 from 3.
That was ... ironic: The Clippers are a team that wins in shootouts and struggles mightily on defense. Monday night, they totally shut down the Mavericks' role players, making for the Clippers' best defensive performance of the season.
Recap | Box score
That was ... the end of a streak: Chicago lost back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 2011, snapping a streak of 86 games.
MVP: Luis Scola started the game hot and never cooled down. He had 10 points and four offensive rebounds in the first quarter and finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.
Defining moment: Houston was down 49-34 with 1:49 left in the first half. They cut that lead to 49-40 and continued that run in the second half, outscoring Chicago 59-42.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul Millsap (31 points, 11 rebounds) came up with crucial bucket after crucial bucket, but let's also give a nod to Wesley Matthews, who finished with 33 points while only missing two shots.
Defining moment: Down one with 26 seconds left, the Blazers turned the ball over on the inbounds pass. Just a few possessions earlier, Raymond Felton dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds. Yeah, it's been that kind of season for the Blazers.
X factor: The play of Gordon Hayward (20 points) and Derrick Favors (11 points, 11 rebounds) gave the Jazz a huge lift. Both played key roles in keeping the game close during the Blazers' hot start.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Tyreke Evans, who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one turnover, made the Kings go. It also didn't hurt that a third-quarter sprained ankle sidelined Luke Ridnour for the rest of the game.
X factor: The Kings had two big bench boosts in the outside shooting of Jimmer Fredette (19 points) and the slashing of Terrence Williams (12 points and 12 rebounds).
That was ... fit for a King: Former King Brad Miller made his first start of his final season, and it came in the city where he spent his best years. Miller scored all 11 of his points in the game's first eight minutes.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Brandon Jennings scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, dished out seven dimes and pulled down six rebounds. After halftime, it looked like Jennings was playing in an All-Star game, toying with the Wiz.
X factor: Six different Bucks hit double figures in points and five of them (Ellis, Jennings, Dunleavy, Ilyasova, Udoh) had 15 or more. Milwaukee's balanced scoring attack kept Washington on its heels all night.
That was ... almost unwatchable: The teams combined for 37 turnovers, and at one point in the second half it seemed as if every fast break ended in a turnover. The NCAA national championship was on everyone's mind, apparently.
3. Monday's Best
Paul Millsap, Jazz: It wasn't a 3-pointer, but it'll do. Millsap, who finished wtih 31 points and 11 rebounds, threw down a dunk with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter to put the Utah Jazz ahead for good in a 102-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that helped Utah keep pace in a tight Western Conference playoff race.
4. Monday's Worst
Bulls backcourt: The Chicago Bulls have done an admirable job hanging on while Derrick Rose recovers, going 14-7 this season without the reigning MVP. But even with Rip Hamilton back in the lineup, the Bulls couldn't provide enough pop to fend off the Houston Rockets. Chicago dropped a second straight game for the first time since February 2011, with Hamilton and starting point guard C.J. Watson combining for just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and eight turnovers.
5. Turned Upside Down
6. Quote Of The Night
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Tweet Of The Night
9. Stat Check
The Los Angeles Clippers won by 19 in Dallas to extend their winning streak to six games. That may not sound like much, but it's the Clippers' longest winning streak since March 1992. As you may have suspected, that's by far the longest time in NBA history between winning streaks of more than five games. The previous long was 12-plus seasons, by the Denver Nuggets, between January 1991 and November/December 2003.
It's only the third time since moving to Los Angeles that the Clippers have won on the road against defending champions. The other times were in 2007 in Miami and 2001 against the Lakers.
10. Dunk Of The Night