<
>

Clippers history not lost on players

The Clippers are reaching new heights after winning a franchise-best 12th straight game Friday. Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- As Lamar Odom got dressed in the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room Friday night, he looked around and smiled as he saw his teammates' children running around him playing tag. He then sat down and shook his head as he bent down to tie his shoe and overheard a reporter asking one of his teammates about the Clippers winning a franchise-best 12th straight game.

The company line during the Clippers' historic streak is that it doesn't really mean anything. That the Clippers are focusing on the future and not the past. And that records aren't really talked about in the locker room.

Odom knows better. He sat in the Clippers' locker room the day Staples Center opened in 1999 when he was a 19-year old rookie. The year before he was drafted, the Clippers won nine games during a strike-shortened season. In his first season, they won just 15. Odom doesn't need to be told about the Clippers' past, he lived it.

"I was here when we lost 20 games in a row," Odom said after the Clippers' 97-85 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday. "So the record, for me, means a lot. I was in here before the game and let [the team] know exactly what we were playing for and the meaning of it and why it's important for us to get it. It's important to be part of the tradition we're starting. It's big. We're starting something special here."

As Odom spoke, his teammates were having almost as much fun creating new handshakes with their kids than they were celebrating the win. When Odom was with the Clippers before, they were a dysfunctional mess, filled with kids less mature than his teammates' children.

"We enjoy each other," Odom said. "We enjoy spending time with each other on this team and it shows. ... We genuinely love each other and so it's easy to overcome obstacles."

When Chris Paul arrived in Los Angeles last year, he didn't know much about the Clippers' history. He knew it wasn't great, but he didn't spend too much time worrying about it. What he knew about the team's history came from talking to the Clippers' longtime play-by-play man, Ralph Lawler, before games.

"I didn't take a history lesson on it or anything like that," Paul said. "Ralph did a good job last year, every time we went on the road he would say, 'We haven't won here since then,' or 'We've only beat this team so many times.' But for us, everything in the regular season, we've done. I think we have bigger sights. Our measurement is only the playoffs."

Paul says he knows the only way the Clippers can truly change the culture of the team and its perception in Los Angeles and around the country is to win, and win big in the playoffs. But before the playoffs arrive, the Clippers' current success isn't lost on Paul.

The Clippers suffered through their fair share of Mayan jokes this week. It's understandable. Anyone who has followed the team over the past 30 years probably thought there would be no greater sign of the apocalypse than the Clippers winning 12 straight and being one of the top two teams in the NBA.

Yet here they are. As Dec. 21 has come and gone, the Clippers are 20-6, just one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA.

It's an amazing turnaround for a team that went 19-63 just three years ago.

"It's a great feeling just changing the perception of our team," Paul said. "When we go into arenas they know it's going to be a tough game tonight. It's a really cool feeling that when a team knows the Clippers are coming to town, they better be ready. And when they come to L.A. to play against us they know it's going to be a dogfight."

During the Clippers' current streak, Paul has even heard from former Clippers such as Ron Harper and Corey Maggette, who have told him the significance of what he and the Clippers are doing and how much it means to them after years of watching them struggle just to win as many games as they already have before Christmas this season.

"Ron was excited for us," Paul said. "And we just played against Corey Maggette and I talked to Corey after the game and he was excited to see how it is now. Guys have been here through tougher times and it's exciting for me, being here for a short amount of time, to talk to the people who have been here for 25 or 30 years. We can't be satisfied, though. We have to keep it going."