The Los Angeles Clippers were cruising along without Chris Paul, but now they’ll have to recover from a somewhat surprising setback on their road trip.
The Chicago Bulls, meanwhile, seem to keep winning no matter how many players are missing from their lineup.
The Clippers will try to avoid consecutive losses for the first time in a month while the Bulls seek their 10th win in 12 games Friday night at the United Center.
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Los Angeles (29-15) had averaged 108.6 points – 3.2 better than its season average – while winning six of eight since its six-time All-Star went down with a sprained right shoulder Jan. 3.
The Clippers, though, shot 6 for 26 from 3-point range as they failed to reach 93 points for the second time in three games in a 95-91 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday.
Since averaging 17.5 points on 65.9 percent shooting in his first four starts, Darren Collison has scored 10.2 while shooting 35.6 percent in his last five.
The Clippers’ previous two losses without Paul came at fellow division leaders San Antonio and Indiana.
"We got great 3-point looks," coach Doc Rivers said after his club fell to 2-2 on a seven-game trip. "Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t.”
While Blake Griffin has become more of a focal point with 26.9 points per game in his last seven, he was limited to one point in the final 12 minutes Wednesday and missed a pair of layups in the final 20 seconds.
Facing another one of the league’s top defensive clubs after struggling against the Pacers and Bobcats, the Clippers could have a difficult time bouncing back as they try to avoid their first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 25-26.
The surging Bulls (21-20), who rank second in the NBA with 92.5 points allowed per game, moved over .500 for the first time in two months with a 98-87 win at Cleveland on Wednesday.
D.J. Augustin finished with 27 points and Taj Gibson matched a career high with 26 as those two filled in for injured starters Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer. Augustin has played a key role in the resurgence with 21.6 points per game over his last five while hitting 19 of 33 from 3-point range.
”It’s one of the things I respect about our team,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”They respond to every challenge. They have a lot of heart. They’re playing together. Each day they have the right approach. If someone’s out, the next five get in there and get the job done.”
Joakim Noah also has been solid in the middle, averaging 13.8 points and 14.4 boards during a career-best streak of 14 consecutive double-digit rebounding games.
Though Hinrich is expected to miss several games with a hamstring injury, Boozer could return from a strained right calf. He’s totaled 49 points in two career meetings with the Clippers at the United Center.
Griffin had a combined 51 points and 22 rebounds in those contests – both Los Angeles victories. He also had 15 points and 12 boards in a 121-82 win over visiting Chicago on Nov. 24 as the Bulls played their first game without Derrick Rose.
The Clippers’ 39-point margin of victory was the largest in franchise history.
Los Angeles has won 10 of 12 at the United Center.