ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Los Angeles Clippers began this 14-day, eight-game trip simply hoping to get Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups back by the end of it. Just past the midway point, they are now just trying to get through practices and games without losing any more players.
Not only are Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Billups (peroneal tendinitis in his left foot) still sidelined, but so too are Blake Griffin (left hamstring strain) and Jamal Crawford (sore right shoulder). All four were inactive Wednesday night as the Clippers somehow found a way to defeat the Orlando Magic, 86-76. Considering the Clippers had lost three straight games, seven of their past nine and were playing without three-fifths of their starting lineup and their sixth man, it was easily the biggest win of their trip and one that was desperately needed.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Bledsoe in the spotlight
With the Clippers hit hard by the injury bug and their top three guards sidelined, Eric Bledsoe did not shy away from the pressure of his increased workload on Wednesday night. He had 27 points, 3 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals. Before the game, Billups and Paul took turns giving Bledsoe some pointers as they normally do pregame with Billups watching game film on his iPad with Bledsoe as he sat in front of on his locker before the game. Bledsoe looked like a different point guard Wednesday. He has shown flashes of brilliance during his 12 games as a starter in place of Paul, but this was probably his most complete game and the one in which he fully embraced his role as a leader. He not only came through with a big shot or big steals when the team needed it most but also gathered the team together time after time to settle them down and give directions.
The Clippers' stat sheet was filled with contributions from players who don't normally play much, and when they do, it's hardly anything that would stand out. With four players out for the Clippers it gave players such as Ryan Hollins the opportunity to show what they could do. Hollins, who has played more than eight minutes only once since November, played a season-high 24 minutes and finished with 13 points and and eight rebounds against the Magic. He was a key reason why the Clippers were able to win Wednesday and his effort had Griffin, Paul and Billups on their feet throughout the night. Matt Barnes also came through with eight points and five rebounds.
It would have been easy for the Clippers to get down on themselves before the game when they got the news that Griffin and Crawford would be joining Paul and Billups on the sidelines, but the mood in the locker room was fairly upbeat. DeAndre Jordan was teasing Griffin and Barnes about their hair, coach Vinny Del Negro was chatting up Paul about what he was doing on his laptop and Caron Butler was playing the role of locker room DJ. It was business as usual, which is a big reason why the Clippers were able to play so well. "We never get too high or too low," Crawford said. "We're always the same."