Paul, Clippers close out March well

LOS ANGELES -- Clippers guard Chris Paul lounged around his Bel-Air home on Saturday afternoon and thought back to the month of March that was.

By the time the Clippers finished their Saturday night game against the Utah Jazz, Paul thought, they would have played 20 games in 31 days, including nine on the road. None of the Clippers had ever gone through a month of basketball anywhere near that grueling since their AAU days.

He thought about it again as he walked into Staples Center and got prepared to play. He said he told injured teammate Chauncey Billups pregame that "you could tell this was No. 20."

The Clippers didn't play as if it were, though. Saturday's game was actually one of their better performances of the month, all things considered. They jumped out to an early lead and weathered a late-game storm when Paul exited briefly because of an injured elbow, finishing with a 105-96 win over the Jazz.

Contrast that with Friday night's game against the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers, when the Clippers trailed in the final minute and relied on a game-winning drive from Paul to win it.

"It was just a solid game for us," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Last night we made enough plays to get the win, but tonight I thought we were in control of the game from the tip."

In getting the victory, the Clippers recorded their first five-game winning streak since Nov. 2-12, 2006, validating the tough month and giving the team some confidence heading into a difficult final month of the regular season.

"The road trip, coming back and playing however many back-to-backs it was and three straight, it was taxing," said Blake Griffin. "But we did a pretty decent job of holding our ground somewhat, and to finish it out with five straight is fantastic."

Before Saturday, almost all of the Clippers' 10 wins in March had come against either below .500 teams or those missing one or more key players. Last weekend's win against Memphis was the only victory that really stood up on its own. And Utah has struggled to an 8-19 road record this season, but the Jazz are still in the thick of the playoff race.

Had they beat the Clippers, they would have been just a half-game back of Denver for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference entering Sunday.

It was Paul who led the Clippers over Utah, scoring a game-high-tying 26 points on just 14 shot attempts and producing six assists. He did it all in just 31 minutes, too, as he missed nine minutes of the second half when he bruised his right elbow midway through the third quarter.

Paul said afterward that he'd be fine, adding that he had hurt the elbow several times in the past, but "probably not this bad."

He has talked a lot this season about checking off milestones that the Clippers' organization hasn't completed in the past, like beating certain teams on the road. He downplayed the impact of this latest accomplishment -- "It's five games," he said -- and Del Negro agreed.

But his coach did say it shows, in a larger sense, that the Clippers are making progress this season.

"There are a lot of those things that need to get checked off," Del Negro said. "It seems like we're checking a bunch of them off, which is good."