LOS ANGELES — This is what an 11-game winning streak feels like:
“Food tastes better, music sounds better, you sleep a little bit better, everything is a little bit better when you’re winning,” Chris Paul said Wednesday night. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”
The Clippers are on a stupendous roll, one so special that team owner Donald Sterling felt compelled to make a visit to the locker room to lead the players in a heartfelt cheer after their 93-77 victory over the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center.
Sterling smiled, shook hands with players and orchestrated a “hip-hip-hooray” for coach Vinny Del Negro, telling the team, “Let’s hear it for the coach!”
There was reason to celebrate. The Clippers matched their franchise-record 11-game winning streak set in the 1974-75 season by the Buffalo Braves, and Paul picked up his 5,000th career assist in the second quarter, becoming the 54th player in NBA history to reach that mark.
“We don’t talk about the winning streak,” Del Negro said. “I don’t want to say it’s irrelevant, but this is about us…. Our goal is to continually improve and recognize what we need to do to win basketball games.”
The Clippers haven’t lost since Nov. 26, and it was the lowly Hornets who beat them. But this time, they pulled out to a 10-point lead at the half and led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers recalled the boisterous celebrating the Hornets did after the first game, and they played like a team seeking payback.
“It wasn’t one of those things where we thought they overdid it,” Blake Griffin said. “We just don’t want to see teams come in and feel like they should celebrate, and we never want to give them a reason to. It wasn’t a thing like we felt we were disrespected. It was a thing where we felt like we disrespected ourselves and in that we didn’t come out and play.”
But that was then. This time, the Clippers rode out some first-quarter struggles, then pulled away before the half. Griffin had 18 points and Jamal Crawford added 17 off the bench.
Paul had 12 assists in the game, but it was his ninth that was most memorable. After missing a short baseline jumper, he got his own rebound and dished to Griffin, who put in a layup for a 45-30 lead.
At 27 years and 228 days, Paul became the third youngest player in NBA history to reach 5,000 assists, behind only Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson.
Paul, however, said he wasn’t even aware he had reached the milestone. When it was flashed on the overhead scoreboard, he seemed to be saying, “What happened?”
“I didn’t know what everybody was cheering for,” he said later. “I’m always so intense in the game, trying to figure out what defense we’re in or what we’re running. I was talking to Blake and I asked what was going on and he told me.”
In a postgame session with reporters, Paul and Griffin got into a comical exchange, with Griffin teasing his teammate about his assist.
“He came to me and told me he needed one more,” Griffin said, smiling. “He told me, ‘You’ve got to get fouled so the crowd can acknowledge me.'”
There was laughter all around, then Griffin added, “It’s cool to be a part of that, but it’s one of thousands. It’s definitely not the last. I’m looking forward to 10,000.”