CRAWFORD APPEARS HEADED TOWARDS 2ND SIXTH MAN AWARD

In February, Jamal Crawford (right) scored 27 points in the Clippers' 14-point victory over the Knicks and J.R. Smith.

When the Clippers and Knicks met just over a month ago in Manhattan, Jamal Crawford had one of those games that look and feel like every shot he fired up was going in.

It was far from a perfect afternoon, after all Crawford missed 10 times, but it was the timing of his 12 makes that were as important as anything. He scored 27 points in the game, including 11 in the fourth quarter when the Clippers turned a one-point lead into a 14-point victory.

It was one of perhaps two dozen games this season that could be a Seminole moment in the race for the Sixth Man of the Year award. In New York, Crawford outscored Knicks guard JR. Smith, 27-6, and it was arguably more one-sided than that.

Once a fellow candidate to be named the league’s best player off the bench, when they went head-to-head Crawford looked the surefire winner. On Sunday, they’ll meet again in Los Angeles, Smith riding a stretch of two games topping 30 points in the last week and Crawford coming off a two-point effort against the Grizzlies after returning from a sore left ankle that cost him the previous two games.

“I just want to get back in rhythm,” Crawford said after Saturday’s practice. “The last game was frustrating. I’m not 100-percent, but I think I can go out there and play. It’s more about us getting back on track, so everything else is secondary to that.”

The secondary part is that Crawford in all likelihood is 16 games away from winning his second Sixth Man of the Year trophy in the last four seasons.

“He’s a versatile scorer, a very dynamic scorer,” Blake Griffin said. “He’s capable of scoring in a lot of different ways. He brings energy for us off the bench. He’s been shooting unbelievably well throughout the entire season. He’s been a huge part of our success.”

Crawford leads the NBA in 20-point games off the bench with 25, six more than Smith. He’s averaging 16.9 points per game, second on the Clippers, and first in the league among reserves. He’s third among all players in fourth-quarter scoring, first in fourth-quarter plus-minus (+166), and is a part of three of the Clippers’ five most efficient offensive lineups.

“He’s a guy that opens up the court,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “You always have to guard him because he can get baskets in a quick timeframe. He opens up the court because you can’t focus in on Chris or Blake as much, he gives you another guy out there that can really score the ball.”

In many ways that’s the same Jamal Crawford that won the 2010 Sixth Man with the Atlanta Hawks when now Knicks head coach Mike Woodson asked him to come off the bench despite being a full-time starter for the previous two and a half seasons.

Woodson, who coached Crawford for one season in Atlanta, reflected on his relationship with the soon-to-be 33-year-old.

"I love everything about Jamal Crawford,” Woodson said. “In my short time with him it was a beautiful ride to watch him play and develop into the best Sixth Man that year. It was something he and I talked about at the beginning of the year and he just jumped on board and went and got that award. I was so excited for him. I mean, he's a true pro. I love Jamal and everything about him. He's playing the same way here with the Clippers."

He’s also taken to putting on his most dynamic performances against other sixth man candidates. He’s scored 20 points or more in five of six games against Golden State’s Jarrett Jack and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin, 25 against the Bucks and J.J. Redick, and, of course, 27 in his only other meeting against Smith.

For Chris Paul, Crawford’s ascension as a top sixth man has helped vault the Clippers into the conversation as title contenders and given them the top bench in the league.

“[He has the] ability to just come in and be a game-changer,” Chris Paul said. “He’s one of the few guys that come off the bench in the league that teams have to prepare for like a starter. He should have been an All-Star this year, but we know how valuable is to our team and why he should win Sixth Man of the Year.”