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Danilo Gallinari reaches a milestone with Clippers while playing better than ever

Danilo Gallinari reaches a milestone with Clippers while playing better than ever
Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari draws the double-team defense by Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr., left, and forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who was called for a foul. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

Lost amid the Clippers’ 129-126 victory Monday in New Orleans was the milestone passed by Danilo Gallinari.

It marked the 22nd game the forward has played this season, one more than he played with the Clippers all of last season, his first with the team, while beset by various strains and contusions to his hand and glute.

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It wasn’t only that Gallinari played Monday but that he was again one of the best players on the floor.

He’s never scored more points (423) or been more accurate from three-point range (46.2%) through the first 22 games in any season of his career. He’s also turning the ball over less, fewer than once a game. Against the Pelicans, he scored 24 points without a turnover in 31 minutes.

“He’s been phenomenal for us,” said teammate Tobias Harris, the reigning Western Conference player of the month.

Plagued by injuries since he was drafted in 2008 — he has missed at least 10 games in all but one of his 11 NBA seasons — Gallinari followed his abbreviated Clippers debut by returning to Los Angeles in the summer from his native Italy weeks earlier than usual in an effort to spur his productivity and durability.

“After the tough year I had last season, the first goal is just to keep helping the team game by game and be able to play throughout the whole season,” Gallinari said.

He’s done more than just stay on the court.

Gallinari is the only NBA player this season averaging at least 19 points and six rebounds while shooting better than 45% from three-point range. When healthy, Gallinari’s height and long-range shooting have always produced problems for defenses, but his effectiveness has been aided this season by the Clippers’ deep, rotating cast of scorers.

Ten different Clippers have scored at least 10 points in a game this season. Five are averaging more than 10 points a game. Four have taken turns leading the team in scoring.

“It’s almost impossible [to guard] because you have so many options that you’ve got to make a choice,” Gallinari said. “You’ve got to give up something.”

That group recently has included Avery Bradley. After shooting 33.6% from the field and 18.9% on three-pointers during his first 14 games, the veteran guard has made 54.5% of his shots from the field and 50% of his three-pointers since the team began its road trip three games ago.

Bradley took the Clippers’ first shot Monday, just as he did in their two previous games, by curling off a screen. Showing defenses they must account for Bradley is a deliberate choice.

“We want them to play him honest,” coach Doc Rivers said. “One thing with anybody, they get an early shot to go in, they’ve got good things coming.”

Beverley fined

The NBA fined Clippers guard Patrick Beverley $25,000 Tuesday for “throwing a game ball at a spectator” two days earlier during the fourth quarter of a loss in Dallas. Beverley was ejected after the incident, which was sparked after an exchange between him and Mavericks fan Don Knobler. Beverley said the fan twice said “[expletive] your mother.”

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Noah joins Grizzlies

Out of the league since early last season, forward Joakim Noah signed a one-year deal with Memphis on Tuesday for the league minimum of $1.7 million.

Noah, 33, was named the NBA’s defensive player of the year and earned All-NBA first team five seasons ago. He played seven games with the Knicks last season before being waived in October.

UP NEXT

VS. MEMPHIS

When: 5 p.m., Wednesday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.

Update: Since beginning the season 12-5 and leading the Western Conference in winning percentage, the Grizzlies have lost four of their last five games. In that five-game span, which includes an overtime loss to the Clippers, Memphis has grabbed the league’s fourth-lowest percentage of rebounds and ranks 20th in offensive rating. It hasn’t been all bad: Opponents are scoring the fifth-fewest points in the paint during the same five-game stretch. That stinginess will be tested by a Clippers team that produces the fifth-most points off of drives.

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