Billups gets the game ball

LOS ANGELES -- Twenty or so minutes after the end of Thursday night’s 112-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets, in a rare understated moment in the Clippers’ locker room following a game,Vinny Del Negro approached Chauncey Billups with a basketball in his hand.

A few feet over, Blake Griffin was conducting his nightly interview with the assembled media, which is getting crazier and crazier by the game. Rookie guard Travis Leslie couldn’t even get to his locker near Griffin’s. Chris Paul had just finished his postgame session, and the crowd was still dissipating.

But Billups was sitting at his locker, quietly getting dressed after he became the 99th player to play in 1,000 NBA games on Thursday. (In a statistical oddity, Andre Miller followed him up only minutes later on Thursday as the 100th.) And Del Negro came up to him, handed him the ball and said a few words under his breath.

Billups smiled and took the ball. The two men shook hands, Del Negro saying a little louder that he didn’t want to make a big deal out of presenting him the ball in front of the rest of the team because of the loss. Billups said he understood and Del Negro went on to complete the rest of his postgame rounds, making his usual nightly stop with center DeAndre Jordan.

A few minutes later, Billups was typically contemplative when asked about the 1,000-game milestone and what it meant to him. He went back to his start in the NBA to try to properly explain his surprise at reaching the number.

He averaged under 35 games per year his first four seasons in the league.

“It’s crazy, man, especially with the way the first five years of my career went,” Billups said. “I didn’t take any of these thousand games for granted. I never knew I would get to this level.”

Del Negro, a 12-year NBA veteran himself, logged 771 career games. Billups would still have to play most of four more seasons to get into the top-10 all-time. Buck Williams is 10th all-time with 1,307 games.