GRIFFIN: CLIPPERS BEGINNING TO HIT THEIR ‘STRIDE’

Griffin and Jordan celebrate after defeating the Raptors
Griffin and Jordan celebrate after defeating the Raptors

PLAYA VISTA – Despite only having their full complement of starters for 16 games so far this season, the Clippers have begun to hit their “stride,” according to All-Star Blake Griffin.

“We’re hitting a little bit of a stride,” Griffin said Tuesday before practice. “We’re more than halfway through the season. Hopefully, we’re getting to a point everybody’s going to be healthy and so hopefully this is the time, you know, March and April that you hit your stride.”

The Clippers are 36-18 after 54 games, one win shy of the franchise record at this point in the season. And they have done it in the face of a number of obstacles, including missing Chris Paul for 19 games (18 in a row with a separated shoulder) and J.J. Redick for 23. They adapted to a brand new coaching staff and seven new members of the roster from a year ago.

Still, they are entering Wednesday’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, the final game before the All-Star Break, with a chance to move within a half game or closer to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The Blazers (36-15) play at Moda Center Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder before traveling to L.A. for the second night of a back-to-back.

The game is important in the standings, but Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said he won’t blow it out of proportion.

“I don’t overplay the regular season games,” Rivers said. “No matter how well this game is played tomorrow, or poorly, there’s always an issue because of the regular season.”

Asked, though, if he is happy with the team’s progress to this point in the season, Rivers said he likes where they are “trending.”

“I know it when I see it,” Rivers said. “We’re growing. I think it’s a lot of those things. It’s defense. It’s offense. It’s just feeling where each other is at.”

The defense, which is ranked ninth in the NBA in efficiency entering play Tuesday, received a boost from the return of Paul on Sunday. The Clippers hope Redick, who will miss his fourth straight game with a sore right hip on Wednesday, can return next week.

“I’m really proud of the way we haven’t really gotten down on ourselves because of the injuries here and there,” Griffin said.  “I’m proud of how the guys have fought and guys have remained extremely professional.

 “I don’t think people really realized how much new stuff we had going on with the team: a brand new coaching staff, seven new players. It did take some time, but I think we’re starting to turn a corner.”