Winning LA: Clippers atop NBA; Lakers win 5 in row
No one’s rushing to anoint the Los Angeles Clippers, who at 22-6
own the NBA’s best record. They’re not exactly impressed with
themselves, either – despite a franchise-record 14-game winning
”It is still early in the season and we have a lot to prove to
the rest of the league,” Matt Barnes said after he helped the
Clippers’ reserves outscore their starters in a 112-100 victory
over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
No less an authority than Kobe Bryant is complimentary.
”They’re playing extremely well,” Bryant said after leading
the Lakers to their fifth straight win, 100-94 over the New York
Knicks in the first game of a Christmas doubleheader at Staples
Center. ”They’re coming at you in waves and waves.”
The Clippers have taken advantage of a soft stretch in their
schedule to win a franchise-record 14 in a row, although they have
earlier wins over some of the league’s elite teams such as the
Lakers, defending champion Miami, Memphis, and San Antonio
”This is fool’s gold,” cautioned Clippers point guard Chris
Paul, who led the starters with 14 points against the Nuggets.
”You don’t play for the regular season. Obviously, you want to
While the Clippers continue to soar, the Lakers are starting to
show signs of life in what has been a confounding season.
”We’re .500,” a smiling Dwight Howard said after the Lakers
improved to 14-14. ”We did it on Christmas, too. I knew this day
Bryant scored 34 points in his NBA-record 15th Christmas Day
game, and Metta World Peace added 20 points and seven rebounds
while defending Carmelo Anthony, whose 34 points led the
The Lakers moved to 9-9 under new coach Mike D’Antoni and upped
their holiday record to 21-18, including 13-9 at home. They
returned to .500 for the first time since they were 8-8 on Nov.
”It’s so early in the season to have turned a corner,” Bryant
said. ”We have everybody in the lineup and we’re starting to see
how we want to play.”
The Clippers have clearly figured things out.
Jamal Crawford led their reserves with 22 points and Barnes
added 20 – one off his season high – as the bench outscored the
starters 64-48 in moving one win ahead of second-best Oklahoma City
(21-6), which lost to Miami earlier Tuesday.
”They’ve got the respect of the league and they’ve got the
attention of the league,” said former Clipper Andre Miller, who
had 12 points for Denver. ”It’s tough to come in here and get a
win when the team is playing that well.”
Kosta Koufos and Jordan Hamilton scored 16 points each and Ty
Lawson added 15 points for the Nuggets, who fell to 7-13 on the
road, where 22 of their first 32 games are being played.
Crawford’s 3-pointer to open the fourth pushed the lead to 20
and kept the Clippers’ starters on the bench for the final 12
Denver rallied in the third, using a 15-6 spurt to close to
73-63, capped by Andre Iguodala’s free throw after Paul received a
The Clippers answered with three consecutive 3-pointers,
including two by Willie Green from the opposite corners, for an
84-67 lead. The Nuggets ran off seven in a row to get within 10
before the Clippers regrouped with a 9-2 run, capped by Paul’s
3-pointer, that kept them ahead 93-76 heading into the fourth.
”They have a confidence right now that’s pretty powerful,”
Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Clippers stretched their lead to 67-48 at halftime with 42
points in the second, their highest-scoring quarter this season.
The bench got things going with a 14-10 run before Paul replaced a
wild Eric Bledsoe. His presence settled down the second unit until
Griffin and DeAndre Jordan eventually came back in during a 28-10
run the rest of the period that produced the Clippers’ first
double-digit lead. Driving dunks by Barnes and Griffin, alley-oop
dunks by Griffin and Jordan, and consecutive 3-pointers by Barnes
and Paul highlighted the scoring binge.
”When we are at our best our starters have a great first
quarter and our bench elevates that,” Griffin said.
In the opening game at Staples, the Knicks were in control most
of the way behind Anthony and J.R. Smith, who had 24 points. But
they struggled offensively in the fourth, when Anthony was limited
to seven points and Smith had five as the Lakers’ defense clamped
down. World Peace fouled out with 1:58 to play and the Lakers ahead
Steve Nash said of World Peace: ”This is what he’s been doing
all year. He gets his hands on a lot of balls, pounds on the other
team’s best guy. You can’t win without that type of effort.”
Smith’s 3-pointer pulled New York to 96-94. After Pau Gasol made
one of two free throws, Smith missed another 3 that would have tied
the game at 97 with 32 seconds left.
”We missed a lot of easy shots, a lot of little chippers around
the basket, shots that we normally make,” Anthony said. ”There
were some plays that we thought should have went our way down the
stretch, but for the most part, we fought. I’ll take this effort
any night. If we continue to play with this effort, we’ll win a lot
With Bryant double-teamed, Nash passed to Gasol, who dunked with
12 seconds to go, punctuating a win that sent Lakers fans,
frustrated by the team’s struggles and coaching change, home happy.
The Lakers avenged a 116-107 loss in New York on Dec. 13.