LOS ANGELES — Except for a couple of minor bumps along the way, the first three weeks of the Clippers’ season played out almost perfectly. Now comes the tough part.
The road. In the NBA it’s never easy, but on the heels of a 101-80 victory Saturday night over the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center, the Clippers started thinking about what lies ahead: four road games in six nights beginning Monday in San Antonio.
“Whoever made the schedule definitely wasn’t one of our friends,” guard Chris Paul said.
By the time they return home, the Clippers will have made stops in Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Atlanta. Tough places, tough opponents.
“Pretty tough is an understatement,” Paul said. “But it’s a good test for us.”
They seem ready for it. Their 21-point win over the Bulls was their fifth consecutive victory and improved their record to 7-2, matching the best start in franchise history. The formula remains the same: The starters pull out early, the reserves extend the lead and then it’s showtime.
The Clippers’ bench outscored the starters 53-48, although Blake Griffin scored 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting and had 10 rebounds. He hit three jumpers in a row from the right wing late in the fourth quarter that gave the Clippers a 99-80 lead after the Bulls had closed to 13.
Actually, Griffin had to be prodded to shoot from outside by Paul, who insisted that his teammate fire away in the second half.
“I had to make a couple so he’d get off my back,” Griffin said, smiling. But Paul said a confident Griffin will be an important weapon as the season moves forward.
Asked how he felt watching Griffin drain three in a row, Paul said, “Man, it felt great. I felt like I made them.
“I get on him the most about not shooting because he works on it so much in practice day in and day out, and we have the confidence in him. He can do it, and we need him to do it.”
Other contributors were Jamal Crawford, who scored 22 off the bench, DeAndre Jordan, who had eight rebounds and seven blocked shots, and Paul, who had 10 assists.
The Clippers held Chicago to just 33.7-percent shooting, but the Bulls also pulled down 21 offensive rebounds and had a 45-41 edge on the board.
“We should be a better rebounding team, no question about it,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We have DeAndre and Blake and lots of athleticism. We need bodies on guys. We can’t expect to give up the offensive rebounds that we’re giving up and expect to win at a high level.”
Right now, they’re getting by fine. But that won’t work against the savvy Spurs, a team the Clippers routed by 22 points on Nov. 7, or against the OKC Thunder, which reached the NBA Finals last season.
“We have to be more consistent,” Del Negro said. “It’s still early. Guys are still getting their feet under them a little bit with the things we’re adding on a daily basis. We have a tough road trip coming up and we have to handle it right.”
There’s agreement on that much. It’s a tough trip, a good test, and although no one was projecting what might make it successful, a 2-2 record would probably be considered acceptable.
“It’s a big road trip for us, but it starts in San Antonio, obviously a tough place to play,” Paul said. “I think we’re as ready as we could be.
“We took care of home, which we’re supposed to do other than those two other games (losses to Golden State and Cleveland), but we couldn’t ask for more from ourselves.”