LOS ANGELES -- Here are a few items of note from a Monday matinee win over the New Jersey Nets, 101-91, at Staples Center:
No CP3...somewhat of a problem
Point guard Chris Paul missed Monday's game because of a hamstring injury suffered in the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over the Lakers. Randy Foye started in his place at shooting guard and Chauncey Billups moved over to the point, and both players performed fairly well in his absence -- combining for 33 points and 14 assists.
But Paul's presence was obviously missing in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers led by 13 with 10 minutes left and then fell victim to a 15-2 run by the Nets to tie the game. Billups hit three key shots to seal it late, but the success the Clips have had in the final periods of games this year was much harder to come by Monday.
Interestingly, small forward Caron Butler played some shooting guard for the first extended stretch this season, logging time there in the second quarter when Billups went out of the game. It appears that will be the plan for the two spot in any games where the Clippers are missing three of their top five guards in Paul, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe.
They were once the Clippers' biggest weakness. They're a lot better now, as evidenced by the first half against New Jersey. Blake Griffin's movement out to Mehmet Okur on the perimeter left quite a bit to be desired, but there was clearly a concerted effort to close down on the Nets' MarShon Brooks and Anthony Morrow, two scorers who scored just four points in 31 first-half minutes.
"Our high beams are up, I guess you could say," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Our antennae are up. We're getting a better feel for our defensive schemes and where guys are and should be."
That was in the first half, though. The second half wasn't so great.
Brooks scored 10 points in the first five minutes as the Clippers repeatedly gave him enough space to operate, and the Nets' fourth-quarter run was also a product of less-than-perfect defensive effort.
"It's still a work in progress," forward Reggie Evans said. "We have showed good signs, but we didn't finish it out the way we wanted to."
On the topic of Evans, he actually didn't play much Monday (12 minutes) or record that many rebounds (four), but he did have one incredibly efficient stretch in the second quarter that stood out afterward.
In a two-minute, two-second stretch early in the second period shortly after he checked into the game for the first time, Evans recorded four offensive rebounds, a steal and a lay-up. The Clippers had the ball for all but 23 of the 125 seconds, essentially all because of Evans.
That earned him a "Reg-gie, Reg-gie" chant from the Staples Center crowd and an ovation when he checked out of the game two minutes later for Griffin. He came on later in the third and fourth and went to the free-throw line a few times, but those were his only rebounds of the day.
"Reggie Evans was really the difference-maker tonight," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "Both he and Griffin were giving them extra possessions."
The Clippers are the NBA's second-worst free-throw shooting team this season.
They shot like it Monday, converting just 19-of-35 shots from line for a 54-percent clip. The 35 attempts were good -- a sign that the Clippers were penetrating the lane early and often and creating easy scoring opportunities. But they shot better from the field in the first quarter.
"Obviously we struggled from the free-throw line tonight," Del Negro said. "We have to do a better job there. It's not from lack of practice; we just have to concentrate and knock those down and make teams pay for fouling us."
Entering Monday, the Clippers had made just 68 percent of their shots from the line this year, which is 29th in the NBA, in front of only the 65-percent Orlando Magic. And the Magic actually have three great free-throw shooters among their top four shooters. Dwight Howard's 46-percent clip just brings the whole squad down a considerable amount.
Asked how he felt the back and forth went between him and Kris Humphries in Monday's game, Griffin shot a quizzical look at a reporter. "Back and forth?" he asked, in a slight dig at Humphries' 14-point night...Rookie point guard Courtney Fortson, called up from the Development League's L.A. D-Fenders earlier Monday, said he had no idea how long the Clippers' staff planned to keep him on the roster. "I'll find out from you guys," he told the media...Attendance at the Staples Center was announced at 19,060, the seventh sellout in seven home games for the Clippers this season. But there were plenty of empty seats throughout the game.