The banter was unusually lively in the Clippers’ locker room Saturday night, as if it was the celebration of a playoff victory.
Center DeAndre Jordan joked with teammate Matt Barnes about his latest strong performance and then playfully gave clipped, one-word answers to questions from reporters before finally breaking into a wide smile.
The Clippers seemed to feel better about their direction even though they were halfway to an unknown destination after a 117-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin scored 30 points on 11-for-16 shooting and Barnes added 26 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds. The Clippers reached the midpoint of the season with a 27-14 record, one game behind where they were at this point last season on the way to a second consecutive Pacific Division title.
More significant than the numbers might have been the infusion of energy brought by starters and reserves alike cheering for one another from the bench, something that did not happen as easily earlier this season before a flurry of moves resulted in the departure of three players and the addition of two newcomers.
“We just kind of have to give guys a lift,” said Jordan, who had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks. “It creates energy. Stuff like that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet but it gives each and every one of us confidence.”
Griffin scored five late points on a couple of layups and a free throw to help turn back Sacramento after the Kings had pulled to within five with 3 1/2 minutes to play.
Jason Thompson had 23 points for the Kings (16-24), who were missing star center DeMarcus Cousins because of an injured ankle.
J.J. Redick had 18 points for the Clippers and Jamal Crawford scored 13 off the bench, though he made only five of 15 shots.
About 75 minutes before tipoff, Jordan squeezed his massive frame into a folding chair next to Austin Rivers in the Clippers’ locker room.
Jordan’s message to his new teammate was direct: Be aggressive. Don’t worry about anything else. It’s just basketball.
“He said, ‘We don’t care if you go one for eight,’” Rivers said, recalling Jordan’s words, “‘because that’s just basketball.’”
That was a theme Rivers seemed to adopt in his second game as a Clipper after a scoreless debut. He was certainly more assertive in his eight first-half minutes, twice driving toward the basket for contested shots that missed and playing lockdown defense as the teams battled to a 52-52 halftime tie.
Rivers missed another layup but made one of two free throws early in the fourth quarter for his first point as a Clipper. He finished with the one point on 0-for-3 shooting to go with one assist and one block in 16 minutes, having played better than his numbers indicated.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he was pleased with where his team was at the midpoint of the season.
“We don’t have the perfect team but we don’t care. I haven’t seen the perfect team yet. Every team has some kind of flaw and we’re fine with that.”