Clipper forward Charles Smith, suffering from tendinitis in his left knee, had hoped to get some rest after the Clippers opened a 19-point lead during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks Friday night.
But Smith didn’t get much rest in the second half.
Smith was pressed back into service after Dallas pulled to 80-77 two minutes into the final quarter.
Smith made four consecutive jump shots to key a 13-3 run as the Clippers extended their winning streak to five, 105-96, before 12,320 at the Sports Arena.
“It was crunch time and everybody has to elevate their game if they want to get the win,” Smith said. “That’s what I had to do, and we got the victory.”
It is the Clippers’ longest winning streak since October of 1985, when they opened the season with five victories. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers’ longest winning streak is six, in December of 1984.
“We’re playing much better defense (during the streak),” Smith said. “We have some good scorers, but defense has been the key. Even without the five-game win streak, we weren’t a bad defensive team all season, but lately we’ve upped our defensive intensity and it’s been a great help.
“We’re definitely coming together. We’re playing good defense and no one’s trying to do too much.”
Smith played only 12 minutes in the first half after bumping his left knee. But he played 18 minutes in the second half and finished with a team-high 22 points, making nine of 17 shots. He also had five rebounds.
“Smith really carried them for a while,” Dallas Coach Richie Adubato said. “He’s an excellent player.”
Although the Clippers (28-44) are usually planning for the NBA lottery at this point in the season, they have an outside shot of overtaking Seattle (33-37) for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Clippers play two of their final 10 games against Seattle.
“It’s personal pride that’s motivating our team,” Smith said. “We’re not out of the playoffs mathematically. It’s a longshot, but our team really thinks they can do it.”
Although making the playoffs is a longshot, the Clippers might be able to do it if Ron Harper continues to play well. Harper had 16 points, six assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes. He also had a steal and two blocked shots.
The Clipper bench has also played a big role in the club’s recent success. The Clipper reserves outscored Dallas, 33-17. Guard Tom Garrick had a season-high 19 points and two assists in 21 minutes and forward Ken Norman had 14 points and six rebounds.
“It was nothing spectacular,” Garrick said. “I had some open shots, and I took them.”
Winston Garland, who has started the last four games at point guard in place of injured Gary Grant, has had a big role in the Clippers’ recent success. They are 6-1 with Garland in the starting lineup. Garland had five points and seven assists in 28 minutes against the Mavericks.
The Clippers shut down the Mavericks in the second quarter, limiting them to 11 points.
“Our defense was really good again tonight,” Clipper Coach Mike Schuler said.
The Clippers finished March with a 9-8 record. Their nine victories tied the club record for most in a month, set in January of 1990. Clipper guard Gary Grant, who had loose cartilage removed from his right knee during arthroscopic surgery Thursday, said he expects to return for next Friday’s game against Seattle. Sidelined for three games, Grant said he will slowly work himself back into the lineup. “I don’t want to mess up the chemistry by trying to start,” Grant said. “I’d like to play 10 minutes a game and give Winston (Garland) and Tom (Garrick) a break.” Although he is unable to run, Grant will begin riding a stationary bicycle as part of his rehabilitation.