Los Angeles Clippers reach for the sky
The Lakers and Clippers have shared an arena and a home in Los Angeles, but that was where the similarities ended.
Entering last season the Lakers were the team of 10 NBA titles in 32 years and the Clippers were the club with two winning seasons in the same span.
The Lakers had celebrities in the stands and championship banners in the rafters. If the Clippers received any attention at all, it was usually in the form of derision.
That began to change last year when, buoyed by the trade for point guard Chris Paul and the continued emergence of the forward Blake Griffin, the Clippers finished 40-26 - one game behind the Lakers - and won a play-off series for only the second time since relocating to California in 1978.
This season the Clippers have bolted to a franchise-best 17-6 start. They lead the Pacific Division, seven games ahead of the faltering Lakers.
This is uncharted territory for the Clippers. After years of being the league's laughing stock, they are suddenly earning respect.
The Clippers have won nine consecutive games, the best in franchise history since they won 11 in succession in 1974/75, when they were the Buffalo Braves.
"We do understand that at some point we will lose a game," Paul said. "But as long as we play the right way and don't get too upset and start pointing fingers or anything like that, we'll be OK."
They are winning by getting contributions throughout the roster. Three of their top five scorers - Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe - come off the bench.
Griffin leads the team in scoring (18.2) and rebounding (9.0), but different nights seem to produce different heroes.
"It hasn't been just one or two guys, it's been three or four," he said. "It's been our entire bench. It's been a lot of things."
The Clippers have scored at least 100 points in eight of their past nine victories. They are scoring 102.2 points per game this season and giving up only 93.8; the 8.4-point differential is the second largest in the league, behind Oklahoma City's 9.3.
"That's a very talented team," said Scott Skiles, the Milwaukee Bucks coach, after the Clippers thrashed his side 111-85 on Saturday. "If you're going to compete with them, you're going to need a superior effort."
The Clippers believe they can be better still.
They are playing without the injured veterans Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups, both of whom could be back before the end of the year.
"The chemistry builds," said Vinny Del Negro, their coach. "We haven't been together that long, it seems like."
Have not been this good, since forever.
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Published: December 17, 2012 04:00 AM