T.J. Simers

This is a crucial week for Clippers' winning streak

The Clippers have had moments in the past, and then just as quickly haved reverted to disappointment.

But this feels different.

It begins with luck, of course, a ping-pong ball bouncing the Clippers' way and putting them in position to draft Blake Griffin.

But the moment the Clippers changed, and it can be pinpointed, is not the day they traded for Chris Paul.

It's the next day when Paul arrived in town after an all-night flight to announce he was embracing the opportunity to play for the Clippers.

He spoke eloquently about what the Clippers could become while telling everyone with more confidence than arrogance that any team he plays on has a better chance to win.

But who gets excited about playing for the Clippers when they were almost a Laker?

Paul changed the Clippers' culture, and the way the team dresses. Right now he's got what looks like a horse blanket hanging out of his suit pocket, I presume because it matches his bright red socks inside his gray dress shoes.

This must be his idea of New Year's cheer or one of those ugly sweater days, only this is something much more far-fetched.

On or off the court, though, there's no question Paul stands out. He has 19 points, nine assists and five steals against Utah and a message for the rest of the NBA.

“We have the right personnel and we still don't have Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill,'' says Paul, while talking about contending for a championship.

In buying into the Clippers, others have followed Paul's lead. Griffin has already extended his contract another five years. The roster is now flooded with players who know they will touch the ball if they are hot.

“With the way we're playing so many players, Blake and Chris' minutes are down as well as their other numbers,” Del Negro says. “But if it's good enough for them, then it's going to be good for everyone else on the team.”

Everyone wanted to know how Del Negro was going to play so many good players. But as nondescript as Del Negro comes off in front of the media, he's different with his team.

He's direct, sitting with each of the new players before they signed with the Clippers and telling them what their role would be.

He's not worried about hurting anyone's feelings. But then he packs a hammer as well, veterans such as Billups, Hill and Lamar Odom reinforcing Del Negro's improved play if this season really is going to be special.

Right now the MVP chants are filling Staples Center for Paul, and the Clippers are on the verge of ending the month of December without having lost a game during the month.

They will fall behind Utah briefly, but they have the advantage of sending wave after wave of exciting scorers at the opposition. And Jordan makes five straight free throws, as if that's fair.

But the streak ends this week.

“You had us losing Game 7 last year in Memphis,” says Paul, who is not only a great passer, but also has a good memory.

And he doesn't seem to care that it's snowing in Denver.