There’s a feeling of optimism among Clippers fans, as high-flying Blake Griffin and fellow All-Star Chris Paul have propelled Los Angeles to the top of the Pacific Division.
Things in Orlando aren’t quite as encouraging, with All-Star Dwight Howard pursuing a trade and the team recently enduring a rocky stretch. The Magic, however, are playing better and have rarely had problems beating the Clippers.
Griffin and Paul try to help Los Angeles avoid a 10th straight loss to Howard and the Magic on Monday night at the Amway Center.
After Thursday’s discouraging 112-91 home loss to Denver, the Clippers (14-7) took out their frustration on lowly Washington two days later. Los Angeles cruised to a 107-81 victory Saturday in the opener of a six-game road trip, outrebounding the Wizards 53-32 and finishing with a season-best 32 assists.
“We were all disappointed in our performance the other day against Denver,” said DeAndre Jordan, who had 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 11 rebounds. “We really wanted to jump out early and set the tone.”
Griffin, who sat out the entire fourth quarter, had 21 points, 11 rebounds and matched a season best with eight assists as the Clippers won for the fifth time in six games despite Paul’s dismal performance. Paul, named to his fifth All-Star game on Thursday, finished with two points – his fewest since 2008 – on 1-of-9 shooting, but did have seven assists.
Although Paul had an off night, the Clippers’ defense had one of its better performances, limiting Washington to 37.5 percent shooting. Los Angeles improved to 11-0 when allowing 95 points or fewer.
“When we get stops, we’re tough to guard in transition,” Paul said. “We’ve got the shooters, we’ve got the high fliers and all that. When we defend teams, we’re tough to beat.”
Their defense against the Magic in recent years, however, has been anything but impressive.
The Clippers have lost nine straight in the series by an average of 14.6 points. This is Los Angeles’ longest active losing streak against any team, and Orlando’s longest current winning streak.
The Clippers scored 85 in each meeting last season, and rarely have the games been close in Orlando, where the Magic have won the last four by an average of 23.3 points.
Griffin averaged 18.5 points on 42.9 percent shooting and 14.0 rebounds in the two games against Orlando last season, while Howard averaged 22.0 points and 14.0 boards.
Howard had 27 points and eight rebounds Saturday at Indiana to lead the Magic (15-9) to an 85-81 win, their third in a row after losing four straight and six of eight.
“We’re not really inconsistent,” said Howard, whose string of six straight double-doubles ended. “Every team has their stretches, but we haven’t allowed it to affect us.”
The Magic also didn’t seem to let a demanding travel schedule bother them. After Friday’s 102-94 home win over Cleveland, Orlando flew to Cincinnati because it was unable to reserve hotel rooms in Indianapolis due to the Super Bowl. It then flew to Indianapolis the morning of the game.
The contest against the Pacers kicked off a difficult stretch for the Magic, who host Miami and Atlanta after this visit from the Clippers.
Kenyon Martin, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Clippers on Friday to provide depth behind Griffin and Jordan, is expected to join the team Monday but likely won’t make his debut until Wednesday at Cleveland.
The 34-year-old Martin averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds last season with Denver and spent part of this season playing in China.