The final game of their seven game Grammy trip had many of the earmarks of a trap game for the Los Angeles Clippers. The team would be weary after so much time on the road. They would be anxious to get home to warm beds and warmer weather in California. And they could hardly be blamed for overlooking this opponent as the Milwaukee Bucks have the worst record in the NBA.
Early in the game, it looked like the trap was set. Despite having jumped to an early 16-7 lead, some sloppy and lethargic play by the Clippers allowed the Bucks to hang around, the LA lead was just two points at 36-34 about three and a half minutes into the second.
But any prey needs some sort of trapper in pursuit, and the Bucks don't seem in any position to trap anything right now. As if they weren't already at enough of a disadvantage, Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo both missed the game with the flu, and the already overmatched Bucks became even more overmatched.
Over the next two plus quarters, the Clippers outscored Milwaukee 73-36 -- doubling up on them in a display that seemed almost unfair it was so one-sided. The Clippers avoided a massive letdown in this game, but it was more matter-of-fact than anything else -- Milwaukee never had a chance.
Especially with Jamal Crawford continuing his red-hot recent play. Crawford scored 25 points on just 16 shots, making 9-16 overall and 5-9 from beyond the arc. The Clippers as a team made 14-28 from deep, running their record in games in which they make nine or more treys to 21-0.
Not that anyone has lately, but the Bucks had no answer for Blake Griffin on the inside. Griffin finished with 20 points in 28 minutes on 8-13 shooting, and one of his misses was a wide-open dunk where he simply lost the ball on the way up. The Bucks 'bigs' might more properly be called 'longs' and no one had the strength to keep Griffin from going wherever he wanted to go.
Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan was getting every rebound. He finished with 18, and would certainly have recorded his third 20 rebound game of the trip.
The Clippers finish with their most successful Grammy trip in team history at 5-2 (and one wonders why just a few of the superfluous three point makes in Chicago, Toronto of Milwaukee couldn't have been swapped for misses in Charlotte, where the team was 6-26 from deep, in which case they'd be 6-1 on this trip instead of 5-2). Yes, it was against entirely Eastern Conference opposition, but five of the seven are in the playoff picture, and seven game road trips are supposed to be difficult regardless of the competition, provided they're all NBA teams (and other than Milwaukee, they were). It's all quite remarkable when you consider that they did it without superstar Chris Paul.
Or consider this: the Clippers have now played 26 road games, tied with the Lakers for the league high. Given that the Clippers have the best home record in the Western Conference, a home heavy schedule in the remaining games could prove to be a big advantage down the stretch, especially when Paul returns after the All Star game.
The trip is over, but in a way it's not, because the Clippers lives will continue to be dominated by travel for another week. They return to L.A. to play the Wizards on Wednesday, but immediately fly to Oakland to play the Warriors on a (yet another) TNT road back-to-back on Thursday. Then it's back to L.A. for the Jazz on Saturday, off to Denver for the Nuggets Monday and finally back to L.A. for Miami next Wednesday before they actually play two games in the same place for the first time in four weeks. So thanks for that, NBA schedule makers.
Complaints about the schedule aside, the Clippers are in a great groove right now, certainly on offense. They've got a few bigs upcoming (at the Warriors, at the Nuggets, home to the Heat, home to the Blazers) but if they keep playing like they've been playing, they'll win more than one of them, even without Chris Paul.