POSTGAME REPORT


(2-3)
VERSUS

(3-2)
Game #5
STAPLES Center | Los Angeles, CA
January 4, 2012 | 7:30 PM (PST)
TV: Fox Sports West| NBA TV
RADIO: KFWB 980 AM
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TEAM Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 FINAL
26 29 20 14 89
41 26 23 27 117
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ROCKETS / CLIPPERS RECAP - RYAN MENEZES
The Clippers will have to shore up their defense, but it may not matter the way Chris Paul handled the offense Wednesday night.

The All-Star point guard controlled the game from the tip en route to his second double-double in five games, leading the Clippers to a 117-89 blowout win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

IMPROVING THE ‘LITTLE THINGS’ NEXT STEP FOR CLIPPERS

By Eric Patten

It was one of the more simplistic basketball plays of the night, a layup off a perfectly placed bounce pass to finish a 2-on-1 fast break.

But as Chauncey Billups caught the waist-high pass from Chris Paul and softly flipped the ball off the backboard, the shot spoke to what the Clippers could become.

On the other end, Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin missed a 3-pointer and as shots from distance so often do, the ball took a long carom. Center DeAndre Jordan, who is second on the Clippers with 7.4 rebounds per game, collected the board and got the ball to Paul, who with perfect floor spacing completed the play in the most fundamental way.

Billups returned from a sore right groin to total 12 points with four assists in 23 minutes, including the lay in, his first regular-season points at home as a Clipper. To an extent the numbers were inconsequential, though. It was the offensive balance and floor spacing and improved bench depth that came with Billups’ return to the lineup that mattered most.

For all of the glitz and excitement around the new-look Clippers, it’s the so-called basics like bounce passes and defensive rotations that are going to either elevate head coach Vinny Del Negro’s squad to an elite level or prevent them from fulfilling their seemingly limitless potential.

Del Negro has said several times that the team has a long way to go. But Wednesday night’s 117-89 victory over the road-weary Rockets offered perhaps a peek into the future.

The defensive rotations and communication were slightly better. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan seemed more vocal, calling out switches and defensive positioning.

“I think everyone needs to be talking on defense, especially our big guys who can see the whole floor,” Del Negro said. “Our weak side is doing a little bit of a better job, but it’s a process. It’s a trust factor defensively and we have to find ways to get the terminology down and get the coverages down and that will happen over time.”

The ball movement and trust on the offensive end were spectacular at times. The team dished out 30 assists with only seven turnovers. And led by Mo Williams and Randy Foye, who combined for 23 points and 10 assists, the bench provided energy and production on both ends of the floor.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Clippers shot a season-high 58% from the field.

“Statistically, it’s a good game, but from a technical standpoint we have to do a better a job and we will over time,” Del Negro said.

And that’s where the focus lies, on the intricacies that can only improve as the team spends more hours on the court together. After the game Billups said the team was taking small steps in the right direction.

“We looked a little more in sync offensively out there,” Billups said. “The spacing was a lot better. Defensively, guys talked a lot, things that we’ve been going over the last two days in practice. You know, just little things.”

Paul scored 11 in the first quarter, muscling his way to six of the Clippers' 22 points in the paint in the opening frame. He continued to attack the paint all night while letting the rest of his teammates shoulder the scoring load, finishing with 20 points on nine-of-14 shooting and 10 assists. Paul also had two rebounds as the Clippers beat an opponent on the glass for the first time this season.

There weren’t too many misses to collect as both teams got off to a scorching start in a bustling first quarter that ended with the Clippers holding a 41-26 lead.

“Our first quarter wasn't the best defensive effort,” Paul said, “but as the game went on we got better defensively.”

The impact of the Clippers’ defense couldn’t be felt until the third quarter, when Paul found a way to summon Staples Center crowd to their feet in a game that had already gotten out of hand.

Mired in a two-for-seven shooting slump to open the second half, the Rockets’ misses were quickly turned into Clippers highlights.

Midway through the quarter, Paul danced around a DeAndre Jordan pick into the lane, then found the center airborne for a two-handed jam. After collecting a Kevin Martin miss on the very next play, Paul one-upped himself by finding Blake Griffin for an alley-oop more thunderous than the last.

“When we get stops, we get out in transition,” Paul said. “That's when we're tough to guard.”

The Staples Center crowd, sold out for the third time in three homes games, was as passionate as it was all night. So was Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who clapped his hands as the Clippers stretched their lead to 23 and the Rockets (2-4) called timeout.

Del Negro sensed that his team could outlast the Rockets, coming off a loss to the Lakers on the same court a night before.

“We wanted to jump on them early and we were fortunate to do that,” Del Negro said.

The Clippers had time on their side, with two days of practice since their last game. And with the game already decided, Chauncey Billups had extra time to rest his sore groin after making his return to the lineup.

Billups had 13 points and four assists in 23 minutes starting for the Clippers and didn’t feel any worse for the wear afterward. He was able to sit on the bench for the entire fourth quarter along with three other starters.

“I was going to play as long as I can to get the win,” Billups said. “If I had started feeling any other way I'd let them know. But I felt great.”

While Billups rested, he had a chance to watch the Clippers reserves make highlights of their own. The gem of the fourth quarter was an alley-oop via a rookie connection, from Trey Thompkins to Travis Leslie for Leslie’s first career field goal.

“That's what I do, dunk a lot,” Leslie said.

Notes

All three of the Clippers’ wins have seen them hold opponents to below 90 points. … DeAndre Jordan failed to record a blocked shot for the first time in 18 straight regular-season games. … Solomon Jones made his Clippers debut just one day after signing with the team. … Leslie’s dunk was also his first career points. … The Clippers as a team had a season-high 12 steals.


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