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Clippers are playing stronger, Doc Rivers says, but their schedule is about to get stronger too

Clippers are playing stronger, Doc Rivers says, but their schedule is about to get stronger too
Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, right, tries to force a jump ball against Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in the first half at Staples Center on Saturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The schedule was kind to the Clippers during a 10-game winning streak that ended Saturday night against Sacramento.

But based on the records of the teams they will face over the next 10 days, the competition is about to stiffen for the Clippers.

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Starting with Monday night's game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, five of their next six opponents have records above .500. And the only team below .500, the 20-22 New York Knicks, has been playing better recently.

Not only that, but five of the six games are on the road, including a back-to-back set at Cleveland and New York on Thursday and Friday and, after a game at Toronto on Sunday, another back-to-back Jan. 26-27 at Indiana and Atlanta.

"I don't look ahead but to the next game, obviously," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday night after the loss to the Kings at Staples Center. "[But] defensively we're a better team. And that's all you need to be is a better team defensively. Offensively, I'm never that concerned about us. I think most nights we're going to be a good offensive team. . . . I just think our team has grown and that's where we're a better team."

Only two of the opponents during the 10-game win streak were above .500 when the Clippers played them, and only one is now. They won nine of the games without Blake Griffin (partially torn left quadriceps) and went 1-1 in the games DeAndre Jordan missed because of pneumonia.

The Clippers are hopeful Jordan can return against Houston, and they expect Griffin to return during the trip — hoping it will be at Cleveland but figuring it's more likely to happen at Toronto or Indiana.

The fact that the Clippers haven't faltered without Griffin prompted a question to Rivers: Had they sent a message to the NBA about how strong they can be despite missing their All-Star?

"No, we're not trying to send any messages," said Rivers, whose team didn't practice Sunday. "We're just trying to win games. The messages have to be sent at the end of the year by winning.

"We just have to keep getting better. I think through this stretch we have improved as a basketball team. And I think when DJ comes back first and then Blake, we're going to be a much better team because of all of this. But we've still got a long way to go. Neither one of them are back yet. So, we've just got to keep plugging away."

Up next for the Clippers:

vs. the Houston Rockets

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 980.

Records: Clippers 26-14, Rockets 21-20.

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Record vs. Rockets: 0-2.

Update: The Rockets have defeated the Clippers twice in an otherwise inconsistent season. Houston guard James Harden is second in the NBA in scoring (27.6) and center Dwight Howard is third in rebounding (11.9). Houston leads the league in three-point field-goal attempts per game (30.1) and is second in three-point baskets (10.5).

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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