PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – Playing games on Christmas Day may have its detractors among some NBA players, but Clippers guard Chris Paul isn’t among them.
He likes it. Paul has flown in 30 members of his family from North Carolina for the holiday — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — so even if he has to be on the court, he’ll have his loved ones nearby.
“I definitely enjoy it,” Paul said Monday. “I definitely enjoy it a lot more too now that we’re home. I think that’s one of the first things you look at when the schedule comes out.”
Then, noting that the Clippers will play at Staples Center on Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets, Paul added, “It usually means you’re doing something right or you’re on Blake Griffin’s team.”
It’s not just the high-flying Griffin fans want to see. Paul is having an impressive season too. He was named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week after averaging 16.3 points, 11.3 assists and 3.5 steals in three games last week.
Griffin won the same honor earlier this month, marking the first time since 2003-04 that the team has had two players win player of the week in the same season. Elton Brand and Quentin Richardson won it that year.
Paul said his play — and the team’s play — is the result of consistency. “It’s tough to win two or three games in a row in this league,” he said, “and for us to win 13 means how well we’re playing as a team. During the streak, a lot of different guys have had big games.”
That was true Sunday night in Phoenix when the Clippers extended their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games. Paul had 17 points, 13 assists and 5 steals. Griffin had 23 points and 11 rebounds. Jamal Crawford came off the bench to score 22, and Matt Barnes had 15 points and 8 rebounds.
Given their 21-6 start, you’d figure there would be little room for criticism. But with their regular season one-third completed, coach Vinny Del Negro said he’s still hoping for better play.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, a lot of areas we have to improve in,” he said. “The guys know that. We have to have that mentality (to) get better individually, get better collectively. We need to get complete as a team.”
That could happen as soon as Chauncey Billups returns to the lineup and Grant Hill makes his first appearance in a Clippers uniform. Billups has played just three games after suffering tendinitis in his left foot following his return from a torn Achilles tendon. Hill is recovering from a bruised knee and isn’t expected back until mid-January.
“A lot of people probably wouldn’t believe it, but we still have a ways to go,” Paul said. “We can still get a lot better in a lot of areas — defensively, our turnovers. Another thing too, we still haven’t seen what our team looks like. We still don’t have Chauncey and Grant, who we think are going to be two huge pieces to our puzzle.”
Even without Billups and Hill, the Clippers have been soaring. They have the second-best record in the NBA, behind only Oklahoma City, and their contest against the Nuggets is the last of five Christmas Day games on the schedule.
Best of all, it’s a home game. Last season, the Clippers opened their lockout-shortened season on Christmas with a road game at Golden State.
Paul remembers that day well. It’s one reason he’s happy to be home this year — and why he’ll be wearing white shoes with snowflakes on them to celebrate the day.
“I did Christmas in a hotel room last year,” he said. “My wife said she wanted a white Christmas tree this year, so I got white shoes to match my white Christmas tree at home.”