This time, things were much easier.
The Clippers (37-17) rolled to an emphatic 107-90 victory over the struggling 76ers (22-28), capping off their eight-game Grammy road trip with a victory to tilt their trip record to 4-4.
What a difference having a healthy Chris Paul makes.
Since his return, the Miami game notwithstanding, the Clippers look like a completely different team, returning to their dominant ways on both ends of the floor -- they shot 58.7 percent and held the 76ers to just 41.7 percent. Paul paced the Clippers with 21 points, 11 assists and 5 steals tonight, and his superb court vision was one of the focal points behind the Clippers’ aerial show in the third quarter.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Clippers had eight steals, five in the first quarter, which is actually less than they average on a nightly basis (10.1 per game, best in the NBA). But it was the manner in which they stole the ball that was impressive. The Clippers have an aggressive defensive scheme -- they pressure the ball a lot and trap on pick-and-rolls -- and it showed as they played the passing lanes beautifully and forced the 76ers into hurried, poor decisions.
Teams can sometimes luck into steals by being in the right place at the right time, or by simply facing a sloppy opponent with poor decision-making. But that wasn’t the case -- the 76ers turn the ball over the second-fewest times per game in the league.
It’s safe to say Blake Griffin has established himself as one of the league’s premier passers at the power forward position, and his performance tonight continued that trend. Along with his usual 20 points and 9 rebounds, Griffin had 5 assists, including another alley-oop to running mate DeAndre Jordan.
Over his past 15 games, Griffin has averaged 4.9 assists, which ranks first among power forwards and centers. He could stand to cut down his turnovers -- he had four tonight -- but they seem to come from him trying too hard to either dribble or pass (which is correctable), not a level of incompetence.
Back on track
After a 2-4 start to their road trip, the Clippers finished strong with two impressive wins over the New York Knicks and 76ers. With a relatively healthy lineup -- both Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups sat out with sore lower backs -- the Clippers once again look like the team that started out 32-9 and matched the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the league.
They’re 20 games above .500 for the first time since Feb. 3, and look to head into the All-Star break with considerable momentum. Standing in their way are the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night and Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, two teams the Clippers have already beaten this season. It’s imperative that the Clippers win both games, or at least split them, as the Memphis Grizzlies (32-18) and Denver Nuggets (33-19) are right behind them in the Western Conference standings.