A little over a week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers had just lost three straight games for the first time this season, they had lost 8 of 12, and the twittersphere was abuzz with rumors that coach Vinny Del Negro was on thin ice and might soon be fired. But after sweeping all five games of their just completed home stand, it's a very different feeling around the Clippers team this week. They're back in fourth place in the Western Conference, and only a game behind the Lakers for the Pacific Division lead. They're scoring again (they scored 100 or more three times in the last five games after going nine straight games without hitting the century mark) and perhaps more important, they're having fun again. Basketball joy has returned to Lob City.
The home stand opened at the end of last week, with a crucial win over the Grizzlies. This week began with a rematch against the Hornets, who had beaten the Clippers four days earlier in New Orleans in the last stop of L.A.'s three-games-in-three-nights road trip. The extra motivation to avenge that bad loss worked wonders, as the Clippers came out and handled the Hornets easily, 97-85, their second straight double digit win.
|Field Goal %:||51.5%|
|True Shooting %:||59.0%|
|Effective FG %:||56.9%|
|Tuesday: Clippers 97, Hornets 85|
|Wednesday: Clippers 103, Suns 86|
|Thursday: Clippers 98, Blazers 97|
|Saturday: Clippers 105, Jazz 96|
Next up were the Phoenix Suns, and once again the Clippers were seeking redemption. The Clippers were winless against the Suns in two tries going into the game, with the second one coming while Steve Nash and Grant Hill rested in what was arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season for the Clippers. Blake Griffin had a huge game, including back-to-back monster dunks in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers prevailed 103-86. It was L.A.'s third straight double-digit victory -- they hand't had as many as two in a row previously this season.
Next the Portland Trail Blazers came to town, and the Clippers had their first let down of the home stand. The Blazers were playing without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, and has they had done against the Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving and the Suns without Nash and Hill, the Clippers seemed to lose their focus facing a diminished opponent. The L.A. defense was lackluster all evening, and Aldridge's replacement J.J. Hickson -- a player who was waived just two weeks earlier by the last in the Division Sacramento Kings -- torched them for 29 points. Only the brilliance of Chris Paul, who scored six points in the final six minutes including the game winner, saved the win for the Clippers.
On Saturday night the Utah Jazz came to town and the Clippers kept right on rolling. L.A. took the lead at 7-4 and never trailed again. Once again Paul and Griffin led the way, with 26 and 24 points respectively.
The five game winning streak is the team's longest of the season, and the first time they've won five straight since early in the 2006-2007 season. It was only the third time in franchise history that they swept a home stand of five or more games -- and the first time in the team's Los Angeles history (the other times were both in 1979 in San Diego).
More importantly, many of the wins came against Western Conference foes still fighting for playoff spots. When the Clippers faced the Grizzlies 10 days ago, a loss would have dropped them behind the Grizzlies and into a tie with Utah, a tie-breaker away from being out of the playoffs. One five game winning streak later and the Clippers are a game and a half clear of Dallas in fourth,two games up on sixth place Memphis, and four and a half games ahead of ninth place Utah. With Phoenix and Portland also hanging around the fringes of the playoff race, the Clippers served multiple purposes by beating them -- they helped the Clippers in the race, while hurting an opponent that was trying to knock them out of the playoffs.
What has been the difference in the team? Well, first and foremost, they've been making shots. The Clippers shot 50 percent or better in all five games of this home stand -- by far the best string of hot shooting the team has had this season. With Blake Griffin commanding constant double teams and Chris Paul breaking down defenses, the other Clippers are going to get open looks -- when they are hitting them, as they were this week, this is a tough team to beat.
But now things get difficult again. After five straight home games against mediocre to bad road teams, the Clippers head to Dallas on Monday night to take on the Mavericks. With Dallas just behind the Clippers in the standings, the game is rife with playoff implications. Wednesday night is even more important, as the Clippers face the Lakers in the final meeting of three between the teams this season. After splitting the first two meetings, the winner of Wednesday's game will win the season series, and with it take the first tie-breaker for playoff seedings.
The Clippers wrapped up March with an 11-9 record in the month. The 20 games were the most by any NBA team in over 45 years -- an absolutely brutal pace, that took it's toll, particularly during a stretch of 9 games in 12 days. The good news with April is that the pace is not quite as hectic -- 14 games in 25 days. The bad news is that 9 of their 14 games are on the road. The Clippers qualification for the playoffs is fairly safe at this point after their solid week -- but they still have much work to do to secure home court advantage when they get to the post season.
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