Updated: December 31, 2012, 6:13 PM ET

1. December Whirl: Will Good Days Get Better?

By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Months from now, when the Los Angeles Clippers reflect on their undefeated December, the winning streak may seem like nothing more than a passing fling with perfection, a month of fantasy basketball played inside a snow globe.

That's the fear with a streak like the one the Clippers extended to 17 games with a 107-96 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night at Staples Center -- that the string of wins is an isolated spell of inspiration, not a precursor to any postseason glory.

"It's so early," Chris Paul said. "There are so many different things that can happen. I think for us right now, we're just trying to build as many wins as possible."

This has been the party line since the Clippers started piling up wins at an obscene rate. On Christmas night, Paul called the streak "Fool's Gold," a novelty that lesser teams might mistake as a valuable asset unto itself. To a man, the Clippers have said the streak is meaningful only because it signals the team is playing quality basketball. Players and coaches insist they don't talk about the streak among themselves.

Clippers
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesThe winning keeps on coming for the Clippers.

"We don't say, 'We've got to go get 18!'" Jamal Crawford said. "That's the honest-to-god truth. Maybe that's why the streak is going, because we're so locked in the moment. It's about the winning, not the streak."

Call it false modesty or a deliberate effort to stay within themselves, but the Clippers continue to express this distinction: The 17-game winning streak is merely a vehicle for success, a pretty package that attracts attention but is far less important than what's inside.

But if the Clippers play as brilliantly this coming spring as they're playing now, they'll undoubtedly point to the post-Thanksgiving winning streak as the moment when the team arrived at a collective belief that they could contend for a title in 2013. Jazz coach Ty Corbin said prior to the game that the Clippers team headed into 2013 had inordinately more confidence than the one Utah saw on Dec. 3, when the streak was still in its infancy.

"We expect to win every time we step out there on the court," Caron Butler said. "A lot of teams say it, but we have a realistic shot every night, whether it's at home or on the road."

Butler led the Clippers with 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field, a contribution that was decisive on a night when the Clippers didn't play particularly well. For much of the game, the defense lacked the bite that vaulted them to third overall in the NBA in efficiency and the offensive output, while prolific, was more the product of some timely shotmaking than a consistent rhythm.

"Nothing came easy for us tonight," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I thought we were a little … I don't want to say 'lethargic,' but we didn't have that extra step early on."

Even though there was plenty to critique, the Clippers ultimately leveraged their strengths to find opportunities. Butler made note of this after the game, when he explained what fueled his 6-for-6 night from 3-point range.

"In the pick-and-roll sets, initially [Utah] was blitzing Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin] was getting the ball," Butler said. "[Utah] was sending a man off the top or from the baseline, and that's what made me so wide open on the weakside."

This is a lesson in X's and O's: exploit double-teams by finding the open man. But, for Butler, it was a demonstration of a quality he found in Dallas, when he was a vital part of the Mavericks' 2011 championship squad before being lost to injury -- selflessness as a team ethic. Butler noted that the entire team was on its way to a dinner hosted by Clippers' backup big man Ryan Hollins. There was no birthday to celebrate or magazine cover to toast.

The occasion?

"Just a nice dinner at a restaurant," Butler said. "[Ryan] invited everybody and everybody will be there. And it's not a coincidence that when you hang with each other off the court like that and care for one another and know what each other is like, it translates on the court."

As Butler prepared to join his teammates at Hollins' dinner, he touched on what he liked most about the Clippers' streak.

"I'm extremely happy to come to work," Butler said.

When a team gets on the kind of roll the Clippers are on, the component parts get absorbed by the totality of the streak. The single event -- a Blake Griffin dunk, or a Chris Paul inside-out dribble, a Jamal Crawford crossover or a DeAndre Jordan swat -- gets subsumed by something larger.

It becomes about the work, and those performing it.

Dimes past: Dec. 13 | 14-15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-22 | 23 | 25 | 26 | 28-29

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