LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Clippers have a long way to go before they’re in the conversation about greatest winning streaks in Los Angeles sports history. But boy are they having a fun time getting there.
The Lakers may have the written-in-stone Christmas matinee, but the Clippers have the best record in the NBA, and a franchise-record 14-game winning streak after beating the Denver Nuggets 112-100 on Tuesday night.
Playing in the second game of the Christmas Day doubleheader at Staples Center, the Clippers (22-6) scored on 11 consecutive possessions during a stretch in which they outscored the Nuggets by 20, breaking open a close game with highlight-reel plays of every kind.
A Blake Griffin dunk from near the free-throw line? Check. Jamal Crawford, who scored a team-high 22 points, dribbling behind the back before banking in a leaner? Check. A Matt Barnes 3-pointer off a deflected pass on a broken play? Check mate.
“Blake and I talk about it all the time,” said Chris Paul, who had 14 points and eight assists. “We want guys to know when they come to play us, to rest up because they’re going to be here and it’s going to be a dogfight.”
With 14 straight wins, the Clips still have eons to go before they’re approaching the 1971-72 Lakers, who set the NBA record with 33 straight victories, or the USC Trojans football team, which won 34 consecutive games from 2003 to 2005. And they can forget rivaling John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, who won an NCAA-record 88 straight from 1971 to ’74.
But what good company the Clippers have kept. This Clippers run is the most impressive performance by an LA pro team since the Lakers’ 16-game and 19-game streaks in the 1999-2000 season, or the 11 straight Kobe & Company won in the 2001 playoffs.
“I was in the Western Conference that year (2008) when Houston won 22 in a row, you know what I mean? And they only moved up like two spots in the west,” Paul said. “We were so deep that year.”
“We talk about it all the time. I tell Blake, I said ‘There are teams that are losing games here and there that may actually be playing better than us.’ It’s good that we’re winning, because … you want home court when it comes to the playoffs. We still have got to keep building. We’ll know when we’re where we want to be. But we still have got a ways to go.”
No other team so acutely identified its weakness in the 2012 offseason. Coming off a breakthrough season for the franchise, but one that saw its bench rank 26th in the league in scoring, vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks pinpointed players who have given the Clips the league’s best bench practically overnight.
Jamal Crawford, who would be an early favorite to win his second sixth man of the year award, led a 64-point bench effort Tuesday. He entered the game as the league’s leading scorer off the bench with 16.8 points per game and had his 12th game with at least 20.
Matt Barnes, who recorded his career-high eighth consecutive game with at least 10 points off the bench, finished with 20. Lamar Odom rekindled some potency with six points, 10 rebounds and four assists, while Ronny Turiaf’s only field goal came on a monstrous dunk in the second quarter, when Los Angeles outscored Denver 42-22.
“What we do now doesn’t really matter when it comes to May and June,” Barnes said. “But we want to continue to build good habits, stay healthy and just continue playing the right way.”
The right way? Long stretches of Tuesday’s demonstration might as well have been referred to as “The Beautiful Game.”
“I thought I would never, ever see Showtime again, and I was the architect of Showtime,” Magic Johnson said during the national broadcast of Tuesday’s game. “The Clippers? That’s Showtime.”
However, coach Vinny Del Negro was upset with the defensive effort in the fourth quarter, which made the final score closer than the game really was and highlighted the team’s need to play a complete 48 minutes and improve quarter by quarter, game by game.
“It’s about the big picture. It’s about us getting better,” he said. “I’m big into the progression of the team. I’m big into working your minutes. I’m big into making sure you play the right way.
“It’s nice, but it’s Christmas. We’ve got a long way to go.”