Clippers open new year with improved health and a three-game winning streak

The new year arrives with the Clippers having stayed the course despite a rash of injuries that threatened to overwhelm them.

They have won five of their last six games and in the process have gotten Blake Griffin back after he missed 14 games recovering from a sprained left medial collateral ligament injury to his left knee and may get Austin Rivers back for Tuesday night’s game against Memphis after he missed the last game because of a sore right Achilles tendon injury.

And so with 2017 in the rear-view mirror and the Clippers finishing on somewhat of a high note, Coach Doc Rivers was asked if his team had turned the corner following a win over Charlotte that pushed L.A.’s winning streak to three in a row.

“I don’t know if you ever turn the corner,” Rivers said. “I think as a coach you’re thinking you’re always turning the corner, but you don’t ever think that you turned it. What I do say is this group is fearless. I think they’ve turned that corner. They don’t worry about who’s not playing, or anything else. They look at the team and say, ‘Let’s figure out a way to win.’”

Griffin, who played in his second consecutive game, has seen enough progress to know the Clippers are moving in the right direction.

“Defensively, we’re getting back to really trusting and just playing hard,” Griffin said. “I thought we did it in the beginning of the game [against Charlotte], but I thought we lost it. And then in the second half, everybody was down, everybody was getting stops, everybody was into it on the defensive end. When we do that, we’re much tougher to play.”

In the middle of it all, the Clippers are starting to creep up in the Western Conference standings.

They are now just 1½ games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth seed in the West.

Griffin admitted that he has kept an eye on the standings.

“It’s a pretty encouraging place to be,” Griffin said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. Being (1½) games out is more than I think people might think. Teams aren’t just going to stop winning. We have to play other teams. We have to play good teams. I think we’ll hopefully get healthy over the course of the next month or so. We talk about it all the time, making this push and trying to get healthy.”

Though the Clippers are three games (16-19) below .500, they have refused to crack under adverse injury circumstances.

“This team is a resilient team,” Rivers said. “They’re tough-minded. They are very close and they grind games out. They just figure it out.”

UP NEXT

VS MEMPHIS

When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.

Update: Center DeAndre Jordan averaged 17.3 points a game for the Clippers in the month of December. The Grizzlies have defeated the Clippers in both games this season.

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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