PHOENIX -- One by one as each player on the Los Angeles Clippers got dressed and spoke Sunday night, it was clear that the results of their four-game winning streak were bigger than a change in the standings.
They represented a change in the team and a locker room that wasn't always as united as it could have been. Something had changed within the Clippers and it was starting to show on and off the court.
The same players who looked like a dozen disjointed pieces of a puzzle earlier in the season are playing together as one.
"The chemistry is growing. You can see it," coach Doc Rivers said after the Clippers' 120-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. "It's been really good. Guys are telling each other the truth on the bench. Sometimes, it goes well. Sometimes it doesn't. That's fine. There will be blowups and they're back together. That's what we need. It's good. I've said it 100 times. A player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team. When we can keep doing that, it's really good."
There's a difference between in-fighting and healthy, sometimes heated debates and the Clippers have had more of the latter during their current four-game winning streak than they've had at any other time this season.
"Our defense has been better because of our communication," Blake Griffin said. "The more we talk, the better we are. It's not just talk and saying, ‘I got your back.' It's directing people and people just listen, they don't second guess it. It's about trust. I don't think I've ever seen a good team that didn't do things like that. Sometimes people blow it out of proportion when two guys have a disagreement, but we see it as guys caring and having a lot of passion and we didn't have a lot of that on this team."
The Clippers' chemistry, especially on the bench, has improved following the acquisitions of Austin Rivers and Dahntay Jones, but there's more to it than simply new faces in the locker room. The Clippers have now won four straight, their second longest winning streak of the season, largely because they're following along with what Rivers has been telling them since the start of the season: good defense leads to good offense, and that's easier to do when everyone is on the same page.
"Since the Portland [win on Jan. 14], everyone is just into the game," Chris Paul said. "The key word we've been saying is 'spirit.' Everybody's being engaged and it's a good feeling."
It's hard to quantify a team's "spirit" but the Clippers look like a team having more fun now than they did earlier in the season. Winning obviously helps but going on the road and beating the Trail Blazers and Suns aren't exactly wins that could have been counted on from this group even a couple of weeks ago.
"I just think we enjoy each other more," Rivers said. "Our focus is better, and we believe we can win every game. The other thing, I think, is we're coming into games ready to play. We had that one stretch where we were just showing up. We won some and we didn't. I think now, if you're going to beat us, you're going to beat us. But you're going to have to play well."
While the Clippers haven't played consistently well this season they are tied for the fourth-best record in the West (30-14) and are just a game in a half back of the second-best record in the conference. They are also 8-4 against the top eight teams in the West as they embark on an eight-game road trip that includes stops in San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
"We've really been playing like a team," Rivers said. "They've played great. The whole team, they're buying in."