The calendar flipped and the Clippers kept winning. A 130-99 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night at Staples Center pushed their season-high winning streak to six games. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. At this rate, Blake Griffin doesn't need to hurry back. The Clippers are easily playing their best basketball of the season. They're playing real defense, moving the ball and getting consistent production from their starters and reserves alike. Center DeAndre Jordan is helping to fill the scoring and rebounding void created by Griffin's absence and a variety of players are stepping up in ways little and big each game. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers had another explanation for his team going 5-0 without Griffin. "I still think it's our defense," Rivers said. "Our defense sets up everything. We get in those stretches where we get the multiple stops—five, six, seven in a row—and with the way we're shooting the ball, the [lead] goes from five to 17 like before halftime." Said point guard Chris Paul: "Our first unit, second unit, everybody is playing with the right pace, the right spirit and we're just trying to hold it down until the big fella gets back."
2; Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford are benefiting from the new second unit rotation. With Pablo Prigioni taking over primary ballhandling duties and Cole Aldrich spacing the court with his continual rolls toward the basket, Rivers and Crawford have been able to go into attack mode. They combined for 39 points against the 76ers and have been two of the Clippers' primary offensive catalysts with Griffin sidelined. "Pablo's just like, 'Hey, Jamal, Austin, you guys just go and I'll help you guys out. That way you don't have to bring up the ball every time and I'll hassle the point guard on defense,'" Austin Rivers said. "It makes everything a lot more simple and for us it's better."
3. So you think you can dance? Sort of. The Clippers have started a tradition in which the last player to enter the locker room after a game has to dance, something that Aldrich had to do after completing a television interview on the court Saturday night. He was worthy of the camera time after scoring eight points on four-for-six shooting to go with nine rebounds and two blocks against the 76ers. His dancing was not so worthy. "Thanks for making me dance tonight," Aldrich tweeted afterward. "I'm glad there isn't [sic] any cameras around to see how good I am." Tweeted Jordan: "I never want to see that again!!! I'm scarred."
4. Defense continues to get it done for the Clippers. Over the 19 games immediately preceding Saturday, the Clippers had allowed 98.3 points per game, the seventh fewest in the NBA. Then they held the 76ers to 25 points or fewer in three of four quarters. "I think what people keep missing," Doc Rivers said, "is our defense just keeps getting better and the more we can get stops and multiple stops and play downhill, the better for us." A big part of locking down opponents has been Luc Mbah a Moute stepping up in his role as a starter. The small forward moved into the starting lineup Nov. 29, just as the Clippers were starting to defend better. There's more than a slight correlation. The Clippers have used Mbah a Moute to defend guards and big men alike, with similar results. Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown knows Mbah a Moute's versatility well after using him last season to defend a range of players including Cleveland's LeBron James and Charlotte's Al Jefferson. "There's just a toughness and a physical side to him and an intellectual side to him that makes him sort of NBA ready," Brown said.
5. The team that rarely practices will get to over the next two weeks. The Clippers are entering a stretch where they will have two or three days off before four of their next five games, with the exception being back-to-back games next weekend. "We need a break," Doc Rivers said, "but we don't want to lose our rhythm either, so I'm not sure how I'm going to handle the three days but we're going to try to do it the right way." Coming off a stretch in which the Clippers had been on the road for seven of eight games and played 15 of their previous 16 games in different cities had left Austin Rivers a bit disoriented. "I came home and I felt like I was still in a hotel the first night," he said. "I was looking around like waiting for somebody to come in my door for room service or whatever."