Chris Paul had 20 points and eight assists, Caron Butler added 14 points, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the injury-depleted New York Knicks 93-80 Sunday in a meeting of division leaders.
Blake Griffin had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who steadily pulled away in the second half of their first home win over New York since February 2009.
J.R. Smith scored 17 points and Raymond Felton had 16 for the Knicks, who played without All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler in their fourth straight blowout loss on a five-game trip.
New York’s Atlantic Division lead over Brooklyn dwindled to a half-game heading into the Nets’ home game against Atlanta later Sunday.
Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups each scored 12 points for the Clippers, who went up by 19 points in the fourth quarter and comfortably weathered New York’s final run to wrap up Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro’s 200th career victory.
With four straight double-digit losses on its five-game West Coast trip, New York understandably isn’t faring well without Anthony, the NBA’s second-leading scorer with 27.5 points per game, and top rebounder Chandler.
Anthony and Chandler both couldn’t finish a loss to the Nuggets four days earlier. Anthony left in the third quarter of his long-anticipated return to Denver, and eventually needed fluid drained from his right knee, making his return uncertain.
Chandler bruised his left knee in Denver, and both stars missed the Knicks’ visit to Portland last Thursday night.
New York also is still without Amare Stoudemire, who will be out for at least six more weeks after recently undergoing surgery on his right knee. The Knicks finish their trip in Utah on Monday night.
The Clippers are getting slightly healthier, with Butler hitting four 3-pointers in his return to the starting lineup despite a strained left elbow. But point guard Eric Bledsoe missed his third straight game with a sore left calf, and Ronny Turiaf was inactive with a sore left knee.
With three days of rest following Wednesday’s discouraging home loss to Memphis, the Clippers struggled through an unsightly first half against New York, making 10 turnovers while taking a small lead. Los Angeles finally got rolling in the third quarter, with Griffin throwing down a percussive one-handed dunk on a lob from Paul during a 16-5 Clippers run.
Los Angeles led 79-60 before Steve Novak hit two 3-pointers during a 12-3 run. New York got within 10 points, but Paul and Lamar Odom hit key shots down the stretch.
With a nine-game lead over Golden State, the Clippers are coasting to the first division title in the franchise’s 43-year history dating back to its origin as the Buffalo Braves.
Los Angeles is four wins away from surpassing the single-season franchise record of 49 victories, and five home wins shy of setting that mark as well.
Paul and Griffin are less concerned about clinching the Clippers’ first banner and more interested in getting on track for their second straight trip to the postseason – the Clippers’ first back-to-back trips in 20 years.
NOTES: Chandler, a Los Angeles native, leads the NBA in field goal percentage (.645) and is seventh in rebounds (11.0). … Smith converted a four-point play in the final minute of the third quarter. … Griffin, Jordan and New York’s Iman Shumpert wore green shoes for St. Patrick’s Day. … Chris Rock, Billy Crystal and Penny Marshall watched from courtside.