Team hopes to avoid stumble

After playing three games in six days -- and five already in the new year -- the Clippers took the day off Thursday. Which is probably a good thing given the tough road ahead.

And the emphasis there is on “road.” Because after Saturday’s matinee against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center, the Clippers head out of town for three games in four days against teams that began Thursday a combined 14 games above .500. The last time the Clippers played consecutive games on the road against teams with winning records, they lost both of them, their only losses since November.

To avoid another stumble, Coach Vinny Del Negro said, his team will have to play a lot better than it did in Wednesday’s 99-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

“We were sloppy,” he said. “We had so many turnovers it was hard to get a rhythm offensively. We just didn’t make very good plays.”


The Clippers figure to get help in the coming days with forward Grant Hill likely to make his season debut Saturday. And guard Chauncey Billups, limited to three games this season, most recently by tendinitis in his left foot, resumed basketball activities this week. So, barring any setbacks, he could be reactivated soon as well.

But the team’s biggest challenge isn’t physical; it’s mental. With the Clippers sporting the NBA’s best record, Del Negro says it’s important to guard against complacency.

“The mind-set that we want to take every night [is to] even get better,” he said. “You start, ‘Well, we want to do this, we want to do that’ -- there’s a process you have to go through to get there. It’s easy to talk about. It’s hard to do.

“We have to go out and perform well. And that’s all we can control. That preparation, our effort, our energy, our enthusiasm. Going out and playing and playing together and executing the plan.”

Guard Jamal Crawford, who scored 11 points in 26 minutes against Dallas after missing the Clippers’ two previous games because of a sore left foot, has bought into the philosophy.

“You want to get rid of bad habits and continue to play good basketball,” he said. “We just want to continue to get better and continue to win.”

But although the winning continued Wednesday, the good basketball didn’t, with the Clippers falling behind by 10 points late in the third quarter before rallying to their 13th consecutive win at home. And that gives the team -- and Del Negro -- something to focus on.

“We’re better than [that],” said Chris Paul, who had a season-high 16 assists, giving him the league lead with 342 (a 9.5 average) for the season. “We came out a little flat, but it’s not going to be merry every night. We’ll take the win, but we know we can play better.”