Ralph Lawler has seen his fair share of bad basketball teams and bad basketball games.
That’s why the Clippers’ announcer for the past 33 years had to almost apologize during the first half of the Clippers’ 111-86 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night when he called the Bobcats, “the worst NBA team I’ve ever seen.”
“We’ve been there,” Lawler said. “We know how it feels.”
Those days must seem like a distant memory now to Lawler and the Clippers after they improved to 17-8 on the season, the team’s best start since 1974, and 4-1 on their current six-game road trip. The Clippers are now 7-5 on the road (after winning six of their last seven), which is good for third best in the West. The Clippers have never finished above .500 on the road in franchise history.
While the game against Charlotte was never in doubt, it did help to drive home two points Clippers players and coaches have stressed since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon in Orlando. They don’t want to play down to the competition as they did in an upset loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, and they want to find ways to get more players involved in the offense.
Against the Bobcats, the Clippers were up by as many as 34 points (the second time during this road trip they’ve been up by at least 30 points) and every starter finished with double-digit points. By the end of the game, a season-high 11 Clippers had scored in the game.
Charlotte, in the midst of one of the worst seasons in NBA history, is far from a measuring stick but these are the kinds of games that good teams put away early so they can dance on the bench for most of the fourth quarter as the Clippers did.
The image of the Clippers dancing to disco music on the sideline in their old ABA Los Angeles Stars uniforms has nothing to do with the game, but it does offer up a window into how close this group has become during this extended road trip. It is a bond that has actually grown tighter with adversity.
Billups had to fly back to Los Angeles after his injury, but his uniform is hung in his locker before every game for every player to see, a practice the team plans to continue this season. Clippers forward Reggie Evans has also started writing “CB1” on his shoes in honor of Billups before every game.
Mo Williams, who has had to fill much of the scoring void in Billups’ absence, lost his grandfather during the trip and after arriving in Charlotte from Philadelphia with the team, flew to Jackson, Miss., to be at his grandfather’s funeral on Saturday. He arrived at the Time Warner Cable Arena shortly before tipoff, was embraced by his teammates and put up nine points, three rebounds and two assists in the win.
During the blowout win, things like a DeAndre Jordan 15-foot basket (“It was 17 feet,” he said afterward) or a Brian Cook 3-pointer brought the bench to their feet, while a Blake Griffin dunk was met with mixed reviews. Chris Paul actually called one of Griffin’s open-court dunks in the second half “weak,” so Griffin responded with a windmill dunk in the fourth quarter to put the final exclamation point on the win before checking out.
“He said that dunk was weak when we came to the sideline so I had to step it up a notch,” Griffin said. “I don’t know. Maybe he’ll approve.”