After losing a close game to Washington during the Clippers’ “Grammy” road trip, the tired, injured, and depleted team flew to their following contest at Orlando with even more bad news; Blake Griffin (strained hamstring) and Jamal Crawford (broken nose) would not be available. With Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups already sidelined, they would have to play the game minus their four best players.
At that point, the team’s record on their trip was 1-3 and Los Angeles had every excuse to go 1-4 in Florida. Down by six early in the 2nd quarter, the patchwork lineup began showing signs of life, climbing to within 2 points by halftime, eventually winning the ugly affair (Orlando was equally hampered by injuries to key players) 86-76. Eric Bledsoe carried the night with a career-high 27 points, getting a surprising boost from Ryan Hollins (13 points and 8 rebounds) and enough defensive intensity from the rest of their patchwork lineup to halt their slide.
After the game, they received some encouraging news; Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford would return and there were murmurs that Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups were scheduled to play two nights later in Miami.
That Friday, the full squad took the floor for the first time in months against the Miami Heat. Looking rusty, they hung tough and were down only a point after one quarter before the Heat buried them the rest of the way, winning 111-89. Despite being beaten badly, Chris Paul sounded upbeat.
“We lost to a good team over there, but we’re not going to hang our heads. You never want to make excuses but they shot the lights out of the ball. We never really made an impact defensively. LeBron, Mario, all those guys were on a rocking chair all night.”
Two days later, Paul’s – and Clipper fans everywhere – optimism was rewarded with a convincing win at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks, followed by a dominating win at Philadelphia over the Sixers. Just like that, the Clippers ended their long, eight game away stretch at 4-4. More importantly, they now looked more like the team that went 31-9 and held the NBA’s best record before Paul’s injury.
Now back home and at full strenght, LA would subsequently cruise to a relatively easy victory over the Houston Rockets (who were missing James Harden) before facing their Staples Center co-tenants and going into the All-Star break for a seven day respite.
Most of the Prime Ticket and ESPN Radio talking heads figured the game against the Lakers would be a close affair; the purple and gold had won 8 of their last 11 coming in and were desperate to go into the break with a win over a quality opponent (let alone the Clippers) and continue to climb back to .500. They also had the opportunity – thanks to the Clippers win over the Rockets the previous night – to gain a game in the standings toward the 8th playoff spot. The Clippers, for their part, were playing, albeit at Staples, the second night of a back to back, and their fourth game in five days. With a firm grip on the third seed in the Western Conference playoff race, would they have the necessary motivation to win?
That question was immediately answered with a 15-0 run to open the game, the Clippers displaying every weapon in their arsenal and running the over matched Lakers off their home floor 125-101. Shaquille O’Neal, on the TNT post game show, lamented how surreal it was to see the Clippers “toying” with the Lakers. The Clippers simply overwhelmed the Lakers in every way imaginable, who will now spend the next five days trying to find a formula to counteract old age, lack of speed, and wanting chemistry.
For the Clippers, who climbed to 1 1/2 games back for the Western Conference’s second playoff seed after Oklahoma City lost to Miami, they now take a four game winning streak into the second half of the season and, more importantly, a healthy roster. With 26 games remaining – 15 of which are at home (10 against sub .500 teams) – they have a prime opportunity to emerge with a top two finish and make a deep playoff run.
Note: We at Fully Clips send out our sincere thoughts, prayers, and best wishes to Dr. Jerry Buss as he battles illness. Get well, Dr. Buss, beating the Lakers just won’t feel the same unless you are around to see it!
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