Clippers end three-game losing streak, but their injuries continue to pile up.
By MICHAEL MARTINEZFS West
There seems to be no end to the list of injured
Clippers, but on a night when another of their stars was forced to the bench, they still had enough to win a game.
These days, that rates as a major accomplishment. The Clippers’ eight-game Grammy road trip had dissolved into a mini disaster, but Wednesday night in Orlando, they held off the struggling Magic, 86-76, for their first victory in a week.
They did it without their usual cast of injured players – Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Chauncey Billups (tendinitis, left foot) – and, for a second consecutive game, forward Blake Griffin. But Jamal Crawford was added to the list when he was scratched because of an injured right shoulder.
Can it get any worse? With Paul, Griffin and Crawford out, the Clippers were missing their top three scorers, who account for 52 points a game. That left them with just nine healthy bodies against a Magic team that had lost 10 in a row and was without several of its own key players, including Arron Afflalo, JJ Redick and Glen Davis.
It was still a struggle. After trailing by two points at the half, the Clippers opened the third quarter with a 16-4 run that gave them a 56-46 lead and provided a sufficient cushion for most of the remainder of the game.
Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 27 points in 41 minutes after matching his previous high Sunday at Boston with 23. He had 19 in the second half and added three assists, six steals and six rebounds.
“I just had to be aggressive,” Bledsoe told Prime Ticket. “My teammates kept telling me that. I had to step up my game, especially when Chris went down and when Blake went down.”
The Clippers clearly took advantage of a weaker opponent, but with a 2-3 record on their trip, they face the daunting task of preparing to face the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Friday. They defeated the Heat in November, but that seemed ages ago.
Paul is unlikely to play, although it’s possible Billups could see time on the floor. But Griffin and Crawford? Those are decisions that won’t be made until just before the game, and if neither is able to play, the Clippers could be in for a long night.
To have any kind of chance, they’ll have to play as well as they did in the second half against the Magic. They turned over the ball just three times after making 11 turnovers in the first two quarters, and they got big contributions from center DeAndre Jordan, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds, and backup center Ryan Hollins, who got a rare opportunity to play and finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds in a season-high 24 minutes.
“That was big,” coach Vinny Del Negro said of Hollins. “You win and lose as a team. Ryan stays ready, and his number was called. He gave us great energy tonight and was very productive. It was great to see him help us win a game.”
If Griffin can’t go Friday, Hollins will likely see more playing time. But the Clippers would prefer to get their regulars back at some point before the trip ends next week.
Crawford remains another question mark. He said he hurt himself on the same play in which his nose was broken last Friday in Toronto when he was hit by Kyle Lowry. The Clippers said it was a kind of residual effect – Crawford was hit, went down and may have hurt himself when he landed on the court.
Del Negro said Crawford felt spams earlier in the day and had trouble lifting his arm. He tried shooting before the game, but it was apparent he wasn’t feeling right.
This is undeniably a difficult period the Clippers are going through. They looked almost certain to go 6-2 when the Grammy trip started, but now – with Miami and the New York Knicks still ahead – they will be content to return home 3-5.