Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who was injured in the final preseason… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)
December could be a rare month to remember for the Clippers.
Having closed to within two games of .500 without rookie Blake Griffin, the Clippers hope to nudge their record into winning territory before they welcome back the No. 1 overall draft pick from what so far has been a season-long knee injury.
"Whew, man," small forward Al Thornton said when asked where the Clippers would be if they could sustain their recent success until Griffin's expected return late this month. "We'd be scary if we keep playing the way we are and get the No. 1 pick back and get him into the flow of things. It could be on the up and up."
The Clippers (8-10) have won four of their last five games, but they might have to play the Houston Rockets tonight at Staples Center without shooting guard Eric Gordon, whose left hamstring tightened up in the final minutes of a come-from-behind victory over Memphis on Sunday. Gordon did not practice Tuesday and his availability for tonight will be a game-time decision.
Gordon said the most impressive part of the Clippers' game-ending 22-0 run against the Grizzlies was the zero side of the equation.
"We played really good defense," said Gordon, who made a key steal during the spurt. "That's what really won the game."
The Clippers are 2-1 since Gordon returned from a sore left groin that sidelined him for the previous eight games. Though he poured in 29 points against Memphis, his defense was every bit as important to the comeback.
"Defensively, he's so good that he forces tough shots and turnovers by the other team," Coach Mike Dunleavy said.
Said Gordon: "I try to put points up on the board, but my main thing is to stop guys from scoring."
Dunleavy said he received "a good report" from a doctor regarding Griffin, who has been sidelined by a stress fracture in his left kneecap.
Griffin has not been cleared to run but he took a handful of flat-footed shots after practice Tuesday.
He is scheduled to have a MRI exam on his knee in about 10 days, Dunleavy said.
"When he gets back," Gordon said, "we want to have at least a winning record by then."
Dunleavy said he received a lot of congratulatory e-mails and texts following his 600th victory, which came Sunday against Memphis.
"It's not a monumental accomplishment from my standpoint," said Dunleavy, who is in his 17th season as a NBA coach. "I like the fact that we got the win and how hard we worked to get it. That was meaningful to me."
Dunleavy ticked off 750 and 1,000 victories as coaching milestones that he said were attainable.
"Obviously, the guys that have done that have been able to stay around a long time," he said. "I think given the chance with the right teams is obviously all part of it."