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Clippers face tough road stretch, which may be a good thing

Clippers have four road games in five days, and can capitalize on playing their best against high-end competit

Maybe it's a good thing for the Clippers there are no more middling teams left on their schedule before the All-Star break.

They have played their best recently against high-end competition, throttling the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and the playoff-contending Phoenix Suns each by 20 points.

Meanwhile, the Clippers had to slog through narrow victories over the rebuilding Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets. They couldn't come all the way back from a 13-point deficit during a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and were in full disarray over the final 94 seconds of a meltdown against the Brooklyn Nets.

So perhaps they should give three hearty cheers for a stretch of their schedule that includes four road games in five days, starting Thursday against the resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers. Then come games Friday against the Toronto Raptors, Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Monday against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Clippers' final game before the weeklong All-Star break will be Feb. 11 at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets.

"We have what, five games left and four of them on the road?" Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of his team's pre-All-Star break schedule. "That may be the good thing honestly because we have hard games left. If we look [ahead] at the All-Star break, we're going to lose any one of those games."

The Clippers (33-16) are 2-2 midway through their eight-game Grammy Awards trip, an even record resulting from uneven play. Their inconsistency has remained a season-long theme even though they held the fourth-best record in the Western Conference before Tuesday's games.

"We let two get away that we shouldn't have," small forward Matt Barnes said of the losses to New Orleans and Brooklyn, "but now we have to get them back. We have Cleveland, Toronto, OKC and Dallas. It's an uphill battle."

The climb might be especially steep if J.J. Redick is unavailable. The Clippers shooting guard was removed from the game against Brooklyn on Monday after only four minutes because of a recurrence of back spasms that had sidelined him for the opener of the trip against Utah.

Rivers said Redick's status would be determined by how he's feeling, not how hard of a stretch the Clippers are facing.

"We've got to make sure he's healthy," Rivers said. "His back is too important for us."

So is sustained success in a conference where long winning streaks don't guarantee a rise in the standings but one defeat can result in a precipitous drop.

That's why the final half of the Grammy trip carries even more significance than usual.

"It's very important," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "It could put us in a good position, not only give us confidence going into the All-Star break with one game at home left. These next four games are huge."

Big buddy time

Win or lose, the Clippers will take part in at least one feel-good story line Thursday in Cleveland.

Jack Gallagher, the eighth-grader who has forged a friendship with Chris Paul after the Clippers point guard wore the initials of Gallagher's deceased mother on his shoes during a game against Detroit in late November, is scheduled to attend the game at Quicken Loans Arena.

Gallagher will meet with Paul and Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who recently sent the teenager from Erie, Pa., a package including a signed jersey and a note telling him he would never be alone.

Gallagher's mother, Lisa, died in September of complications from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The Gallagher family produced a tribute video that showed Jack placing one of his CP3 model shoes on Lisa's grave, sparking his friendship with Paul after the All-Star watched the video.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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