LOS ANGELES (AP) — Without Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, the New York Knicks are hardly a team that should present many problems for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Although the Clippers caused a few problems for themselves, they solved them in plenty of time to keep moving toward their franchise’s first Pacific Division title.
Chris Paul had 20 points and eight assists, Caron Butler added 14 points, and the Clippers beat the injury-depleted Knicks 93-80 Sunday in a meeting of division leaders.
Blake Griffin had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who shook off a turnover-plagued start and pulled away in the second half of their first home win since February 2009 over New York, silencing the cadre of taunting Knicks fans that invades Staples Center for each visit.
“We want them to be at full throttle with Melo and Tyson just for the competition of it,” said Chauncey Billups, who scored 12 points. “When they’re not playing, it’s just human nature to have a subconscious letdown, but you have to find a way to just scrap through it.”
Jamal Crawford scored 12 points for the Clippers, who went up by 19 points in the fourth quarter and comfortably weathered New York’s final run to wrap up Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro’s 200th career victory.
With three days of rest following Wednesday’s discouraging home loss to Memphis, the Clippers struggled through an unsightly first half against New York, making 10 turnovers while taking a small lead. Los Angeles finally got rolling in the third quarter, with Griffin throwing down a percussive one-handed dunk on a lob from Paul during a 16-5 Clippers run.
“You want to be playing not just for the seeding, but to be ready going into the playoffs,” said Griffin, who had a strong second half in his first game since his 24th birthday. “It’s the time when everybody’s intensity needs to be turned up, and we need to be dialed in for every single game, no matter who we’re playing.”
J.R. Smith scored 17 points and Raymond Felton had 16 for the Knicks, who played without All-Stars Anthony and Chandler in their fourth straight double-digit loss on a five-game trip. New York’s Atlantic Division lead over Brooklyn dwindled to a half-game heading into the Nets’ home game against Atlanta later Sunday.
“We’re all professionals, and sometimes you’re going to play short-handed, so you’ve got to compete, said Jason Kidd, who scored 11 points as the third-oldest player on the court. “In that third quarter, we just lost control of the game. We’re going out there trying to win, so we’re not sacrificing anything. The biggest concern is just our health. We’ve got to get healthy first and go from there. But there’s no guarantee those guys are going to come back, so we’ve got to play with the guys we have.”
New York understandably isn’t faring well without the NBA’s second-leading scorer and its seventh-leading rebounder, but is hoping Anthony and Chandler will bounce back from injuries that wouldn’t allow them to finish the Knicks’ game against the Nuggets four days earlier.
Anthony left in the third quarter of his long-anticipated return to Denver, and eventually needed fluid drained from his right knee, making his return uncertain. Chandler bruised his left knee in Denver, and both stars missed the Knicks’ visit to Portland last Thursday night.
New York also is still without Stoudemire, who will be out for at least six more weeks after recently undergoing surgery on his right knee. The Knicks finish their trip in Utah on Monday night.
“We know we’re a few men down and we can make excuses, but we’re not going to make excuses, man,” said Kenyon Martin, who had four points and nine rebounds while starting and playing 28 minutes. “Guys have pride. We’re going to compete every night, no matter who’s playing for us. It’s tough. We gave ourselves a chance early in the third quarter and didn’t back down, but it was an uphill battle from there.”
The Clippers are getting healthier, with Butler hitting four 3-pointers in his return to the starting lineup despite a strained left elbow. But point guard Eric Bledsoe missed his third straight game with a sore left calf, and Ronny Turiaf was inactive with a sore left knee.
Los Angeles led 79-60 before Steve Novak hit two 3-pointers during a 12-3 run. New York got within 10 points, but Paul and Lamar Odom hit key shots down the stretch.
With a nine-game lead over Golden State, the Clippers are coasting to the first division title in the franchise’s 43-year history dating back to its origin as the Buffalo Braves. With its second straight postseason trip all but certain, Los Angeles is four wins away from surpassing the single-season franchise record of 49 victories, and five home wins shy of setting that mark as well.
“It’s not tough (to stay focused), because we haven’t been playing the style that we want to play,” Paul said. “We can get better, so it’s important for us to focus on these last 15 games.” NOTES: Chandler, a Los Angeles native, leads the NBA in field goal percentage (.645). … Smith converted a four-point play in the final minute of the third quarter. … Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and New York’s Iman Shumpert wore green shoes for St. Patrick’s Day.