Clippers keep sailing along through Heat
Momentum, that’s the new (old) word of the day.
Yes, the modern-day Clippers have heard rumors of that condition afflicting individuals, and at times, sports teams. They even flirted with it but only in the faintest, slightest of ways.
The Clippers won their fourth consecutive game, and sixth in a row at home, defeating the Miami Heat, 94-84, Sunday afternoon at Staples Center behind Chris Kaman’s 22 points and 14 rebounds, and kept the damage contained to the Heat’s Dwyane Wade (24 points) and Michael Beasley (20).
For the Clippers, it all turned around, more or less, after a Christmas Day downer, the debacle at Phoenix.
There has been one loss denting their record since then, in a six-game stretch. They are one game away from .500, sitting at 17-18.
Clippers, meet momentum.
“Last year . . . wasn’t any momentum,” said shooting guard Eric Gordon, who contributed 17 points.
Succinct but accurate. There was no hint of a long-term relationship last season, and it seemed in question when No. 1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin went out because of a knee injury in the preseason and the Clippers lost their first four regular-season games.
Back to the present. What was impressive about their latest victory was the Clippers came at the Heat with a variety of weapons. Inside, Kaman and Marcus Camby combined for 31 rebounds, five shy of the Heat’s output.
Baron Davis had another double-double -- 11 points and 14 assists, the latter a season-high -- and responded to an increased workload because backup point guard Sebastian Telfair was out because of a sore groin.
“We can compete with anybody in the league,” Davis said. “What we’ve been able to do is establish an attitude, an identity. And that has really happened for us on the defensive end. Our wings are doing a great job of accepting the challenge and our bigs are doing what they’re supposed to do on the inside and that’s protect the paint.”
Said Al Thornton: “If we keep playing like this, I think we can be special.”
Even when Davis was starting to pick it up earlier in the season, his mentor, assistant coach John Lucas, made a point of saying that it was just the start, that his best was still a few jump shots away.
Davis agreed on that point and expanded upon it, in the larger sense.
“Absolutely. My best is definitely yet to come, and I know our team’s best is yet to come,” he said. “We’re still working through some kinks, working through some tweaks, just from an offensive execution standpoint.”
“Oh yeah, we can still get better in many different areas, whether it’s our bench or us rebounding,” he said. “We’ve been having rebounding problems. We still have problems turning the ball over.”
The Clippers led by 19 points in the first half and avoided the second-half trap of this season, keeping it to a hiccup rather than a full-fledged stumble. Overall, they had 19 turnovers to the Heat’s 15.
“Unfortunately, once we got a big lead we weren’t as efficient in the open court,” Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I thought we were trying to be too fancy and make too big of plays, as opposed to delivering the knockout punch.
“Just keep it simple and going about our business. When we get to that point in time, that’s when I’ll be thinking we’re playing at the top of our game.”
What Wade was saying afterward certainly could have applied to the Clippers.
He said they have been two teams this season, Miami and the Heat.
“And this was Miami today,” he said.
The good: Thornton and Craig Smith helped continue the trend of strong play coming off the bench. Thornton had 13 points and Smith had nine points and seven rebounds.
The bad: Thornton, who played 23-plus minutes, came off the bench. He hasn’t started since Dec. 30 at Portland.
“I’m dealing with it,” he said. “I’m not happy about it. I’m not excited about the role. But you have to learn to make the most of your situation, still got to be professional about it.”