LOS ANGELES (AP) — These are heady days for the long-suffering Los Angeles Clippers. They’ve tied a franchise record with an 11-game winning streak and at 19-6 are tied for the second-best record in the NBA.
Still, Chris Paul wants to keep the fans’ euphoria in check, saying, “We’re not trying to peak now. We’re trying to build something.”
While the Lakers, their Staples Center co-tenants, continue to stumble with a losing record and an early-season coaching change, the Clippers are flying high led by All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin. Bolstered by one of the league’s deepest benches, which was remade in the offseason, Paul and Griffin haven’t been seeing much playing time in the fourth quarter.
That’s when they become cheerleaders for free agent additions Jamal Crawford and former Laker Matt Barnes, along with Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf, the latter two being the other former Lakers on the team.
“They have their identity and it starts on defense,” Griffin said.
The Clippers have shown they’re capable of winning without big numbers from Griffin. They are 13-3 in games when he scores less than 20 points. He’s averaging 18 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Veterans Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill, another free-agent pickup, have been vocal with their leadership and support while rehabbing injuries.
“We’re all playing for one goal and not individual accolades,” Paul said.
The Pacific Division leading-Clippers have taken advantage of a soft stretch in their schedule to win those 11 straight games, with victories over some of the league’s worst teams, including New Orleans, Charlotte, Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix, and Sacramento, their next opponent on Friday night.
“Eleven in a row. Not bad, is it?” owner Donald Sterling said before leading a locker room cheer after a 93-77 victory against the Hornets on Wednesday night.
Before the streak began they knocked off some of the league’s best. They have wins over Memphis, the Lakers, San Antonio (twice), Atlanta and defending NBA champion Miami.
“They have a chance to win it all,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.
Even the team’s veteran announcer, Ralph Lawler, is on his own winning streak. His “Lawler’s Law,” which dictates that the team reaching 100 points first will win, is 19-0 this season.
Paul and Griffin have clearly clicked on and off the court in their second season together. They frequently kid each other during their dual postgame interview sessions held in a separate room next to the locker room.
Paul regularly rallies his teammates for outings on the road, including dinners and trips to a mall or movie theater. The team took in the new Tom Cruise flick “Jack Reacher” on their last trip, a 4-0 venture as part of the current winning streak.
There’s a family feeling in the locker room, too, with Paul’s 3-year-old son and Barnes’ twins among the kids cracking up the players after games. Big man DeAndre Jordan has a drawing of himself done by Caron Butler’s 8-year-old daughter taped to his locker.
“I’ve never been on a team this close,” said Crawford, averaging 16.6 points off the bench. “Everybody here is pulling for each other, whether it’s your night or somebody else’s night. Everybody has a role to play.”
Willie Green, who has started 22 games in place of Billups, sat when the veteran guard recently returned for three games before getting hurt again.
“He didn’t complain and he didn’t play a minute,” Paul said, giving an example of the attitude permeating the team.
The last Clippers team to win 11 in a row was the Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.
“Most of the guys weren’t even born then,” coach Vinny Del Negro points out. “We want to make our own history and that’s only going to happen if we have the right mentality.”
Del Negro preaches defense first and the Clippers have bought into it.
“We can score on any given night,” Paul said. “As long as we defend, we give ourselves opportunities to win.”