The Los Angeles Clippers got what they needed Wednesday night, an impressive, lop-sided victory over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, 101-72. Every win is imperative at this point, as the Western Conference playoff race could not be closer for seeds three, four and five. With the Memphis Grizzlies eking out a one point overtime victory over the Thunder, the Grizzlies, Nuggets and Clippers are all now tied in the standings, with the Grizzlies holding a scant lead in winning percentage.
The Clippers haven't been particularly sharp in recent games, and they didn't start this game sharp either. The first quarter ended in a tie with both teams shooting a dreadful percentage from the field. More troubling was the fact that the Clippers seemed to lack energy once again.
But an unlikely second unit breathed some life into the Clippers in the second quarter. With Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe and Ronny Turiaf all hurt and Grant Hill resting on the second night of a back-to-back, Vinny Del Negro sent Malik Wayns, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins out to start the second. Neither Hollins nor Wayns, who just signed his second 10 day contract, figure to be in the playoff rotation provided that the team is fully healthy, but it was their energy that got the team moving in the right direction. They combined for nine points in a 14-4 run to start the quarter, and the Clippers were in control the rest of the way.
Chris Paul flipped his 2-10 game from Tuesday night in Sacramento on its head to go 8-10 against the Sixers. Better still, because of Wayns' solid play and the 20 point margin for most of the fourth quarter, he was only forced to play 31 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Clippers defense was the most promising sign in this victory. L.A. held Philadelphia to 37% shooting and forced 20 turnovers. They had 13 steals, five each for Paul and Lamar Odom. They even put the clamps on the three point shooting in the second half -- after making four of their first six three pointers, Philadelphia went just 2-14 from beyond the arc the rest of the game.
Interestingly the Clippers won easily despite the fact that Blake Griffin struggled all night. Griffin has been shooting better than 60% from the field since the beginning of February, but he was just 2-9 tonight, finishing with just 7 points. He also added 9 rebounds and 6 assists, finishing with a decent little triple-single in 26 minutes of play.
Of course, it was expected that the Clippers would beat the Sixers. The real news of the night was Memphis' win over Oklahoma City. In the last two days the Nuggets and the Grizzlies have beaten the Thunder, signaling that those teams are not planning to fade in the playoff race any time soon. The Clippers are going to have to win the third seed in the West -- neither Denver nor Memphis are going to make it easy. L.A. has a slight easier schedule in their final 13 games, but it's probably going to take a run of 10-3 or 11-2 to secure third -- and even that might not be enough.
But their performance against the Sixers was a good first step. Another positive step would be getting back to full strength, which could happen as early as the Clippers next game, Saturday against Brooklyn. Even if they don't have Bledsoe and/or Billups back for that one, it would be great to have them back for the four-games-in-five-nights road trip next week. That trip -- to Dallas, New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston -- could make or break the Clippers' season. They'll want to go into it at full strength and playing quality basketball. Wednesday night was a good start.
For the Philadelphia perspective on tonight's game visit Liberty Ballers.
|Final - 3.20.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||20||26||28||27||101|
|San Antonio Spurs||68||52-16||.765|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||69||50-19||.725|
|Los Angeles Clippers||69||47-22||.681|
|Golden State Warriors||70||39-31||.557|
|Los Angeles Lakers||69||36-33||.522|
|Portland Trail Blazers||67||31-36||.463|
|New Orleans Hornets||69||23-46||.333|