December 30, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) and point guard Chris Paul (3) in the first half of the game against the Utah Jazzat the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers defeat Utah Jazz - finish December a perfect 16-0

I’ll save for another post why I hope the Clippers’ 17 game win streak ends sooner than later, but for now it’s time to take a deep breath, savor the moment, and stand in awe of what this team has just accomplished.

17 straight wins aside, the Clippers have just become one of only three teams to finish a month undefeated (1971 Lakers and 1991 Spurs, who ironically, had Vinnie Del Negro as part of their starting backcourt). During this stretch, their average margin of victory tops 15 points, while holding teams to under 40% shooting and having NO player on their roster averaging over 20 points per game (Jamal Crawford is closest at 17ppg). They’ve beaten bad teams badly, good teams badly, average teams barely, and barely teams averagely. All the while downplaying each and every victory as though it were their first of the season.

“When we win we usually jump up and down once or twice,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Tonight we let them jump and down three or four times, so everyone had their fill.”

And then Vinnie went on to criticize the turnovers, lapses on defense, and anything else he could summon to dull his team’s triumph. Um, yeah, Vinnie, way to celebrate.

But now a truly tough test awaits – aside from the pesky Jazz – in the form of Denver, Golden State twice, and  certain team from across the hall who’ll be itching to show its fans who is top dog in these parts. Oh me, oh my, it certainly is an interesting time to be a Clippers fan, isn’t it?

As for their 25th win of the season, the Jazz once again proved to be formidable. Al Jefferson was out of his mind with 30 points and the  huge Jazz front court continued to pound the Clippers underneath. Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Enes Kantor, and Derrick Favors offer a skyscraper’s worth of height and heft to navigate around, but Utah couldn’t get much scoring from their guards. Former Clipper Randy Foye, who torched us for 28 points only 48 hours before,  was held to only 10 this time around, while active second unit sparkplug Gordon Hayward was held to 16 points on a difficult 5-15.

Meanwhile, over on the Clippers’ side, Caron Butler started things off with 17 first quarter points on his way to 29 on a crazy 10-14 (including 6-6 from 3-point range!). Chris Paul added 19 eerily quiet points, meaning spread out and barely notice able, and 9 assists to go along with 5 more steals. Blake Griffin played perhaps his worst game of the season to date, finishing with only 7 points and picking up his 4th foul barely into the 3rd quarter. It was clear, however, that the Jazz were simply not going to let Blake get anywhere near the rim, choosing to foul him hard repeatedly and constantly send twin towers of double teams at him. DeAndre Jordan again proved his worth down the stretch, hitting four free throws with the game outcome still in doubt, finishing with 14 points and 6 rebounds. Matt Barnes was finally held under 10 points, but hit a 3-point dagger in the fourth quarter to stall Utah’s momentum, while continuing his suffocating defense on Foye and Haywood.

But I’d really like to give a special mention to Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford on this particular night. Certainly, Crawford is building an airtight case for another 6th Man of the Year award, especially based purely on his ability to score (he had 19 points against the Jazz tonight). It’s not just Crawford’s point totals that impress; indeed, it’s the way he gets his points and his uncanny knack for timely assists that gives opponents fits. Need an impossibly long 3-pointer as the shot clock is expiring? Crawford will hit it. Short floaters? Check. Lobs for dunks and pinpoint passes for layups? Done. He even brings the ball up court to relieve Paul when they’re on the floor together. Even Crawford’s defense has improved to the point of leaving him on the floor when a stop is needed, a far cry from his Portland days.

Odom, on the other hand, is one of the smartest players in the game. He simply knows what to do and where to be in virtually any situation. He is an uncannily smart defender who can guard big or small, can grab rebounds in the middle of crowds, and throws the best long outlet passes in the entire league. It’s frightening to think what is going to happen when his shooting touch finally returns to form and his experience in big game situations will make our bench that much more effective come playoff time. Obviously the Clippers half court offense is still evolving and Odom’s knowledge and experience will keep things improving.

So “the streak” continues, with a Tuesday game in Denver posing a huge threat to its continuation. The Nuggets have only lost once on their home floor and will be hungry for payback after being beaten soundly at Staples Center only a few days ago. It will be a tall order to take them out, and an even taller order to follow it up the next night in Golden State; however, I’ll gladly take a loss or two for a victory Friday night…

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Tags: Blake Griffin Caron Butler Chauncey Billups Chris Paul DeAndre Jordan Eric Bledsoe Grant Hill Jamal Crawford LA Clippers Lamar Odom Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Clippers Matt Barnes Utah Jazz Vinny Del Negro

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