LOS ANGELES – The Clippers might not be a perfect team, but they just completed a perfect month.
They closed out December with a 107-96 victory over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center and became only the third team in NBA history to go 16-0 in one month.
They also extended their franchise-record winning streak to 17 games, the longest in the league since the Boston Celtics won 19 in a row from Nov. 15 to Dec. 23, 2008.
And this: Their 25-6 record is the team’s best start after 31 games and the best record in the NBA.
Until now, the Clippers have tried not to become too absorbed in streaks or records, preferring to take coach Vinny Del Negro’s one-game-at-a-time approach even as the wins kept piling up.
But just this once, they allowed themselves a small celebration.
“Usually when we win, we jump up and down once or twice in the locker room,” Del Negro said. “Tonight we let them jump up and down three or four times. So everyone had their fill.”
No one poured champagne or offered a postgame toast, but that’s because it’s still only December, barely a third of the way into the regular season. And the Clippers are about to begin their toughest stretch: four games in five nights, including back-to-backs on the road against the Nuggets and Warriors followed by home contests against the Lakers and Warriors again.
But there was an immediate afterglow about what they’d just achieved.
“It’s unreal,” Blake Griffin said. “It’s something that just keeps happening. We don’t really talk about it. It wasn’t like, ‘OK guys, let’s try to win all our games in December.’ It just happened. It’s a tribute to everybody in here.”
The game was a struggle, just as two previous games against the Jazz were this season. The Clippers let a breezy 11-point lead early in the third quarter dissolve into a one-point deficit, 76-75, with two minutes left in the period, putting the streak in jeopardy.
But they made several big shots in the fourth, and a Matt Barnes three-point basket with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left gave them a 98-90 lead that essentially sealed the win.
Center DeAndre Jordan also helped down the stretch, making five free throws in a row after the Jazz began fouling him in the fourth quarter.
“You have to stay in the moment,” Jordan said. “My teammates kept me going. They give me confidence.”
The Clippers have plenty of that. They haven’t lost since a seven-point loss at home to the New Orleans Hornets on Nov. 26. It seems so long ago.
“We’re pleased with finishing the month undefeated, but we’ve got work to do,” Del Negro said. “Nothing came easy for us.”
The Clippers relied on the shooting of small forward Caron Butler in the first period. Butler converted all five of his three-point attempts and scored 17 points. He finished with 29.
“That felt good,” he said. “My teammates were definitely keeping me open. Chris (Paul), in the position he’s in with the basketball, was finding me open, and I have to make shots.”
The Clippers are one of just 22 teams to win at least 16 consecutive games in the regular. Of those 22 teams, 14 eventually advanced to the NBA Finals.
No sense looking that far ahead. There are still 3½ months left in the season, and sooner or later, the Clippers are bound to hit a wall.
But they’re clearly enjoying this ride.
“Seventeen in a row is impressive,” Barnes said. “It’s a tough feat. But it’s still just December, and we’re going into a new year. We’re playing good basketball and that’s a positive.”