Clippers finally find their ‘happy place’

LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are back in their “happy place,” as Lamar Odom called it Sunday night.
They played team defense and kept a positive energy. They got everyone involved offensively. They shared the ball.
Most of all, they put an end to their four-game losing streak, and at the perfect time. Their 96-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center avenged a heartbreak loss to the same Blazers team Saturday and served as a prelude to their upcoming eight-game Grammy trip.
“We needed any win right now,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’re just trying to accumulate as many wins as we can and then count them up at the end of the year and see where we’re at.”
Where the Clippers are right now is 33-13, third in the NBA’s Western Conference, 2½ games behind the San Antonio Spurs. No one is putting too much importance on their position in January, but they certainly don’t want to slow the momentum any more than they have in recent days.
Since the end of their 17-game winning streak, the Clippers are just 8-7. But there was a lot of positive energy flowing from Sunday’s win, especially since the night before they wasted a nine-point lead in the last 2 minutes, 38 seconds to suffer a 101-100 loss.
This game was different. Blake Griffin scored 23 points and handed out nine assists after totaling 10 assists on Saturday. Odom came off the bench to finish with eight points, 13 rebounds and six assists. The Clippers shot 51 percent and had 42 baskets on 33 assists.
The difference between losing and winning, Odom said later, was “controlling our emotions, keeping our energy positive and doing all the little things. One of them is playing defense, and whenever we get at it defensively and share the ball, that’s kind of our happy place.”
You could see it on the court, where the Clippers moved quickly, distributed the ball and made defensive stops. You could see it on the bench too, where players were leaping off their seats after every alley-oop pass and subsequent dunk.
“When we play with spirit, everybody gets involved somewhere,” said Jamal Crawford, who had nine points and five assists. “To have 33 assists and have everybody involved like that and standing up like that when something good happens, that’s who we are. That’s the way we were at the beginning of the season, and we’re getting back to it now.”
With guard Chris Paul still out with a bruised right kneecap — and no timetable for his return — the Clippers are trying to make up for his loss as a collective unit. Paul has missed seven of the past nine games, but the Clippers are 4-3 in those games — not great, but not bad either.
“Chris is a huge part of our team,” Griffin said. “He directs the game from the point guard spot. He has the ball in his hands 85 percent of our offense. When he goes out, our whole dynamic changes. Other guys have stepped up. Jamal has done a great job, Eric Bledsoe has done a great job. It’s everybody’s job on this team to step up, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Griffin tied his career high with 10 assists on Saturday and could have surpassed that total Sunday, except the Clippers had a 16-point lead after three quarters. He tried to convince Del Negro to let him return in the fourth quarter, but that idea was nixed.
“Our lead assist guy is not around, so we have to run some things through Blake at the elbow and let him make plays for us,” Del Negro said. “He draws so much attention, but he’s unselfish and he’s making good basketball plays and making us play better. That’s what all-stars do in this league.”
They also help their teams win. Griffin did that, and that’s why the Clippers are back in a happy place.