Chauncey Billups is back in the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Clippers, just in time to begin what they hope is an extended run in the playoffs.
The veteran guard’s mere presence was enough for his squad in their 6th straight win, 93-77 over the Trail Blazers. He had 4 points – all on free throws – while playing 17 minutes, just under the limit set for him after he missed 8 games with a strained right groin.
”I was happy to be out there running around,” asserted Billups, who shot 0 for 5 from the field. ”I was a little too excited with my shots.”
Caron Butler scored 18 of his 22 points in the 3rd quarter in his return from a sore right knee. Blake Griffin added 16 points, DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and nine rebounds, and Chris Paul had 11 assists for the Pacific Division champions, who finished their home schedule with a 32-9 record.
The Clippers remain in the hunt for the No. 3 seed in the West, but they need help from Denver. The Nuggets would need to lose at home to Phoenix and the Clippers would need to win on the road to move up.
”We’re playing the right way and jumping on teams early,” Jordan said. ”Our defense is actually what’s separating us as the games go on.”
Billups has had a front-row seat to watch his teammates while he has been out.
”The biggest thing that I like is that our emphasis on defensive end has been a lot better,” he said. ”Our focus on stopping guys on the pick-and-roll one night or rotating and running men off the 3-point line one night. We’ve been able to change it up game-to-game pretty successfully and that is going to be big in the playoffs.” Football odds
Will Barton scored 17 points and Joel Freeland added 13 for the Blazers, who never led while losing their 12th in a row.
The L.A Clippers were dominant in the paint (46-30) and on the boards (51-33) while wrapping up the season series 3-1.
”They picked up their defense and their energy, and as fast as that happens, it’s hard to maintain yours,” Freeland said. ”They were running. They were beating us on the fast breaks and things like that. It was difficult, but we had to try to keep more composed than what we were, but we were unable to do that.”
Five of the previous 6 meetings between the teams in Los Angeles had been decided by 10 points or fewer. It was never that close after the 2nd quarter, when the Clippers pulled away on the strength of their bench.
”There were lots of possessions where we really executed,” Paul said. ”I really got excited when we ran some of our actions to perfection and actually paid attention to detail because that’s what we’re going to have to do in the playoffs.”
The reserves scored 15 consecutive points for a 45-29 lead, including 5 by Ryan Hollins. He and Jamal Crawford combined for the quarter’s most impressive play, with Crawford flipping a no-look pass to a streaking Hollins on the fast break for a driving jam. Hollins got fouled and completed the 3-point play.