Paul returns, fuels Clippers victory
Blake Griffin had one of those rare nights when his free-throw percentage for the game was actually higher than his field-goal percentage.
The three-time All-Star made a pair of clutch foul shots in the final two minutes, finishing 7 for 10 from the line and partially atoning for his dreadful 5-for-18 performance as the Clippers held off the pesky Washington Wizards 94-87 on Saturday night.
Griffin has converted 23 of his last 29 from the line to improve his season percentage from 61.9 to 64.2.
''I'm just putting in the work every day and trying to turn that into something that's a strength of mine and not something that can be a liability,'' Griffin said. ''It's going to be huge for us, especially down the stretch and in the playoffs. So if I can shoot better from the free throw line, that will take a little pressure off the rest of the team.''
Chris Paul, the NBA player of the month for December, also had a poor-shooting game in his return to the Los Angeles lineup after missing three games because of a bruised right kneecap. He missed 10 of 16 shots, but still managed 22 points and 11 assists and helped seal the victory with seven points in the final 3:14. The Clippers won despite shooting a season-low 36.6 percent from the field.
''I was 6 for 16 and Blake was 5 for 18. That's not going to happen on most nights,'' Paul said. ''The biggest thing is that we had 93 shot attempts and they had 77. That's how we won the game — with offensive rebounding. It was cool to be back. I feel like it's been the longest week, sitting out three games. But I still need to get my timing back and get it through my head that I can play.''
The surging Clips have won an astonishing 24 of their last 27 overall and are within a half-game of idle Oklahoma City for the NBA's best record, a full game ahead of San Antonio. The top teams in the Western Conference will go head-to-head on Tuesday night at Los Angeles in a rematch of their overtime battle on Nov. 21, when the Thunder beat the Clippers 117-111 in Griffin's hometown.
Just hours after the NHL's Los Angeles Kings raised their first Stanley Cup banner to the Staples Center rafters and received their championship rings as a prelude to their lockout-delayed season opener, the Clippers reached the midway mark of their spectacular season and continued to tantalize their long-suffering fans with hopes of an NBA Finals appearance in June. The farthest the franchise has gotten in its 43-year history was the conference semifinals, in 2006 and again last season.
When asked if having a brand new championship banner hanging almost directly over the Clippers' bench will be inspiring or uncomfortable, coach Vinny Del Negro said: ''It won't be uncomfortable. There's a lot of banners up in this building (11 by the Lakers), and we're just trying to make our own path right now and trying to achieve the most success we can with this group. The hanging of banners is very difficult, as everybody knows, but we're just trying to achieve what we can and put ourselves in a position to compete at the highest level and see where it takes us.
''I know some of the people in the Kings organization and I know it's an exciting time for them,'' Del Negro added. ''They earned it. I had a chance to look at their ring today, and it's a beautiful ring. I'm happy for their success and for the city. That's what it's all about.''
Coming off a sweep of their three-game road trip through Memphis, Houston and Minnesota, the Clippers improved their home record to 19-4. The win was their fourth in a row since the 104-101 loss to Orlando on Jan. 12 that ended their franchise-record, 13-game home winning streak.
John Wall scored 24 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose league-worst record dropped to 8-30 even though they had won four of their previous five games.
''It was a close battle out there tonight,'' said Wizards forward Nene, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. ''There were things we couldn't control, but it was close. The Clippers are good. They play together and trust each other, and they won. But we are playing much better.''
Wall, whose block of Ty Lawson's potential game-tying layup in the final seconds helped the Wizards escape Denver with a 112-108 victory on Friday night and snap an eight-game road losing streak, shot 7 for 16 and had six assists in his fifth game of the season. The NBA's top overall draft pick in 2010 returned to action on Jan. 12 after missing the team's first 33 games with a stress injury to his left kneecap, but has yet to start.
The Wizards are a league-worst 2-17 on the road. They haven't won consecutive games on the same road trip since last Feb. 12-14, when they beat Detroit by 21 points and Portland by 15 before losing to the Clippers the following night at Staples Center.
''They're a good team despite their record. I mean, going into Denver last night and getting a win is not an easy thing to do,'' Matt Barnes said. ''They've got a lot of talent, they just haven't figured out how to put it together.''
Los Angeles missed 11 of its first 14 shots in the fourth quarter before Paul hit a 3-pointer that gave it an 85-80 lead with 3:14 to play.
Bradley Beal hit a 3-pointer at the other end and Wall made one of two free throws to cut the Clippers' margin to 85-84 with two minutes remaining. But Griffin hit a pair of free throws, then converted his offensive rebound of Paul's missed jumper into a reverse layup for an 89-86 advantage. Paul helped clinch it with a 17-footer and two free throws in the final 33 seconds.
The Clippers have won eight consecutive against the Wizards since a 106-94 loss at Washington on Jan. 31, 2009. They had never beaten that franchise more than three times in a row prior to this streak since the rivalry began in 1970-71, when the marquee read: ''Buffalo Braves vs. Baltimore Bullets.'' The Clippers' longest winning streak against any club is 11, against Dallas from 1992-1994. ... Wall committed a league-worst 255 turnovers in 66 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, six fewer than he had in 69 games as a rookie in 2009-10. ... Clippers reserve F Lamar Odom — still looking for his 300th career double-double — has played in 94 regular-season games since his previous one on April 8, 2011, when he had 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers at Portland. He's started only five games during that stretch. ... The Clippers lead the league with 872 points off turnovers, including the 19 they scored on Washington's 18 miscues. ... Paul, who came in averaging a league-best 2.62 steals, has recorded at least one in 52 consecutive regular-season games — the league's longest active streak. His career best is 108 in a row.