Clippers take momentum into break with big win over Blazers
FEB 13, 2014 2:52a ET
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers are in a very good place right now.
They are still a long way from the finish line, but as they reach the five-day break for the NBA All-Star game, there's a sense that good things are still to come.
Wednesday night's 122-117 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center was their third win in a row. It nudged them into a virtual three-way tie with Houston and the Blazers for the third spot in the Western Conference. They believe they can still get better.
How can they not feel good?
"With what we've gone through with injuries -- and so have other teams, not just us -- you like where we're at," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "And you know the chances of us getting a lot better are very likely -- and that's good."
There was no better way to reach the break than with a rousing victory over a team they've trailed in the conference for much of the season. But in a game that had 18 ties and 40 lead changes, the Clippers came up with the big defensive stop at the end.
With 1½ minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers protecting a one-point lead, Chris Paul tied up Portland guard Damian Lillard and forced a turnover. Center DeAndre Jordan picked up the loose ball, threw it ahead to Matt Barnes, who tossed it back to Jordan for a slam dunk and a 120-117 advantage.
That was the stop they needed.
"It was going back and forth," Paul said. "We were up down, down one, up one. I told (Griffin), 'If we get a score and stop, it changes the whole game.'
"It was kind of frustrating because it was me making mistakes on defense. But all in all it was a good win for us."
And a good way to begin the break. Although Rivers insisted he was unaware of his team's record (37-18) or the standings, it might be time to pay attention. The Clippers, Blazers and Rockets are 5½ games behind conference-leading Oklahoma City and two games behind No. 2 San Antonio.
The Clippers resume their schedule Tuesday night at home against the Spurs, giving them another chance to move closer to the top.
"We definitely know what the standings are," said Griffin, who scored 36 points. "I don't think it's too early to know what you can do to move up."
But perhaps just as important, the Clippers are collectively pleased with where they're at and where they think they can be when the playoffs begin in April.
"I'm happy," Paul said. "I'm in a great place as far as our team going into the break.
"It's one of the best feelings I've had about a team since I've been in the league, strictly because of defense. I think a lot of people will see that (Portland) scored 117 points and say, 'What is he talking about?' but the mindset is there. It's a work in progress and hopefully we peak at the right time."
Paul and Griffin aren't getting much of a break. They're both headed to New Orleans for the All-Star game, and Paul still isn't quite 100 percent after missing 18 games because of a right shoulder separation.
"Uh, it's definitely not that," he said. "But I've said before, as long as I'm not hindering my team or my teammates, I feel like I can be effective out there.
"I'm going to get there, I can tell you that much."
Right now, the Clippers feel the same way.