On the verge of matching their longest losing streak of the season and following two particularly bad defeats, the Los Angeles Clippers may be getting a break with the Western Conference’s worst team coming to town.
Chris Paul expects them to treat it like a playoff game.
The Clippers get their fourth crack at a franchise-record 50th victory and have a shot to wrap up the Pacific Division on Wednesday night as they meet the Phoenix Suns.
“We’ve had three chances to get to 50 wins, and we still haven’t been able to do it. So Wednesday’s a big game for us,” Paul said. “We’ve got to approach it like a playoff game. Most teams are approaching us like that.”
Los Angeles (49-26) has been outscored by double digits with its All-Star point guard on the floor in each of the last three games. The first one was a solid performance by the Clippers, losing 104-102 at West-leading San Antonio on Friday, but the last two were poor efforts that left many players frustrated.
Paul was the only starter not benched for the entire fourth quarter of Saturday’s 98-81 loss to a Houston team missing James Harden. Los Angeles returned from a 1-3 road trip only to lose 109-106 to Indiana on Monday, when the starters again sat out the fourth except for Paul and Blake Griffin entering late after the reserves nearly made up a 24-point deficit.
“You’d love to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, it’s a wakeup call and we’re going to be completely different,'” Griffin said. “And that’s the idea and that’s what we’ve talked about and that’s what we want to do moving forward.
“We have to prove that.”
Griffin averages a team-leading 8.4 rebounds but has grabbed 5.0 per game over the last four. His averages of 14.0 points and 40.9 percent shooting over the last seven games are well below his season marks (18.3, 54.0).
Paul is shooting 35.2 percent in the last four, including 2 for 12 from 3-point range.
Their struggles could be why the Clippers remain stuck on 49 wins, tied with the 1974-75 Boston Braves for the franchise record, and looking to avoid losing a season-high four straight for the third time.
They will clinch their first division title with a win Wednesday and a loss by second-place Golden State to New Orleans.
“You can only talk so much, eventually, answers speak louder than words,” said reserve Jamal Crawford, who had 25 points Monday.
Phoenix (23-51) also is one loss shy of matching its worst slide of the season, having dropped six in a row and 10 of 11.
Like the Clippers, the Suns hosted the Central Division-leading Pacers in their last game but were more competitive, trailing by single digits for most of the contest before losing 112-104 on Saturday.
“I can definitely see that trend where guys get up a little bit more for the high quality teams,” forward Jared Dudley said.
That may have been the case when the Suns last saw the Clippers, winning 93-88 in Phoenix on Jan. 24. However, an injured Paul missed that game after averaging 16.5 points and 12.0 assists in two December matchups as Los Angeles won both.
Griffin averaged 23.5 points in those victories before getting held to 12 in January.
Phoenix’s Goran Dragic had 24 points in that meeting after totaling 15 in the first two. He’s coming off a 21-point, nine-assist performance Saturday after being rested for the previous two games.