The Los Angeles Clippers didn’t have much left in the tank at the end of a three-game road trip that was played entirely without star point guard Chris Paul.
Against the injury-depleted Minnesota Timberwolves, they didn’t need much.
Jamal Crawford scored 22 points, Blake Griffin added 20 and the Clippers hardly broke a sweat in cruising to a 90-77 victory over the free-falling Timberwolves on Thursday night.
Lamar Odom grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out six assists, and the Clippers outscored Minnesota’s bench 45-23 to overcome Paul’s third straight missed game because of a knee injury.
”It was a bad game for us and to still get a win and finish off a road trip 3-0 is great,” Griffin said. ”We needed these three wins, especially with CP out. Other guys stepped up and did a great job.”
Ronny Turiaf had 11 points – his first double-digit scoring game since March 21, 2011 – and the Clippers had a 50-30 advantage on points in the paint.
Luke Ridnour scored 21 points and Ricky Rubio had four points and six assists in his first start of the season for the Timberwolves, who lost leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Pekovic to a bruised right quadriceps in the third quarter.
The Timberwolves shot just 35.7 percent and missed 15 of their 19 3-pointers in losing their fifth straight game.
”It’s tough, but we have two ways to do it,” Rubio said. ”One is complaining because we have the injuries. I don’t think that’s the way. The way is to be a man. I think we have to step up. Everybody has to know his new role. Every game it’s changing and that’s hard to do. But we are here and we’re going to do it.”
Even without their MVP candidate out there to steer the ship over the last few games, the Clippers have been humming right along. Backup Eric Bledsoe clearly has been watching how Paul goes about his business because the third-year Kentucky point guard has played with a maturity and explosiveness that has allowed the Clippers to not miss a beat.
Bledsoe picked up two quick fouls in the first 3 minutes on Thursday night, but that was no problem for the deepest team in the league. Coach Vinny Del Negro went to super-sub Crawford, who scored 12 points in the first half to help Los Angeles muddle through an uninspired start.
”We should come into every arena feeling we should get the W,” Caron Butler said at the morning shootaround. ”That’s not being cocky or overconfident. That’s having enough confidence in our ability and ourselves and the personnel we have out there and the system that we run.”
The Clippers looked a little too overconfident early in the game, seemingly playing on cruise control against a team they knew was undermanned and overwhelmed. Los Angeles turned the ball over 17 times in the first three quarters and coasted offensively to allow the Wolves to hang around.
Minnesota trailed by just five going into the fourth quarter, but the Clippers simply wore down the Timberwolves with their depth. Bledsoe scored only two points, but Crawford’s 3-pointer with 5 minutes to go gave Los Angeles a 13-point lead and the short-handed Wolves simply faded away.
”We want the starters to be comfortable enough that when they come out of the game they don’t have to worry,” Crawford said. ”I think when they come out of the game we should extend the lead and they will be fresher down the season because of it.”
Pekovic was injured while getting tangled with Griffin under the basket in the third quarter and Alexey Shved rolled his left ankle midway through the final period, the latest in an incredible pile of injuries for the Wolves this season. Kevin Love is out for two months with a right hand that is broken for the second time this season, Brandon Roy may not play at all this season with recurring knee problems, Chase Budinger is out until March with a knee injury and Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee are both lost for the season with injuries.
Head coach Rick Adelman missed his sixth straight game while tending to his sick wife.
”It’s hard,” acting head coach Terry Porter said. ”It’s really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but we have to keep working towards getting better and whoever we have we just have to come out and play hard.”
Notes: Paul and Griffin were voted starters for the Western Conference in the All-Star game. … The Timberwolves held a moment of silence for Minnesota Lynx COO Conrad Smith, who died after a long battle with cancer on Wednesday night. Smith also worked for the Timberwolves, Twins and North Stars over the years. ”Simply put, Conrad is irreplaceable,” Timberwolves and Lynx president Chris Wright said. … The Wolves agreed to terms with F Mickael Gelabale of France, who planned to join the team on Friday. … Turiaf, a 38 percent free throw shooter this season, drew jeers when he airballed a freebie in the fourth quarter.