LOS ANGELES -- This was the kind of game that would have tripped up the Los Angeles Clippers earlier in the season. A 12:30 p.m. contest against a sub-.500 team was a recipe for a letdown for the Clippers.
As much as they have talked about treating every team the same and not playing down to their competition, it has been easier said than done for the Clippers.
Maybe, just maybe, they have turned a corner and matured in that department.
After beating the Phoenix Suns 117-99 on Saturday and extending their winning streak to five games, maybe that is a concern of the past for the Clippers. After all, a week ago they beat the lowly Sacramento Kings by 35 points, then beat the Dallas Mavericks by 22 points three days ago. They might not be where they want to be just yet, but at least they aren't losing to teams they should beat now.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Odom turning a corner
One of the biggest reasons behind Clippers’ five-game winning streak is the improved play of Lamar Odom. After scoring just 4 points during the Clippers’ previous four-game losing streak and getting only 2 rebounds in three of those games, Odom has scored at least 4 points and grabbed at least 5 rebounds in the Clippers’ past five games. He scored a season-high 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against the Suns on Saturday.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Odom is beginning to play the way the team expected him to when they traded for him in the offseason.
“We’ve just got to stay patient and know where he’s at, and keep him engaged and let him do the work,” Del Negro said. “It’s going to be a continued process and we have a lot of faith in him ... and he’s going to pay dividends down the road.”
Crawford and the bench
The Clippers are at their best when Jamal Crawford is at his best. He has a league-high 10 games off the bench this season scoring 20 points, and the Clippers are 8-2 in those games. Crawford scored 21 points on Saturday, with 13 of those points coming in the fourth quarter as Crawford helped push a 2-point lead to an 18-point advantage. Crawford was assisted by Matt Barnes, who had 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Eric Bledsoe, who finished with 10 points and 4 assists.
“Thank the bench, because our starters were struggling,” Del Negro said. “They got us off to a bad start again. I was disappointed with that.”
Del Negro’s biggest problem with the starters at the moment is their defensive intensity. He was upset that the Clippers gave up 31 points in the first quarter and 57 points by halftime. The Clippers’ second unit helped hold the Suns to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, and after the game Del Negro told his starters that they need to play with the same energy on defense as the second unit.
“Our starters get into energy this energy on the offense and not as much energy on the defense, and that’s what beats you in this league,” Del Negro said. “We’ve got to change that mentality as soon as possible, because this game easily could have gone a different way.”