Jamal Crawford (11) and the Clippers are hoping to reverse a 1-3 road trip… (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)
Acceptable or exceptional?
There are several degrees of separation possible for the Clippers as they start a potentially troublesome four-game trip Tuesday. The Clippers will hopscotch through the Midwest and Southeast with two games in two nights at Chicago and Charlotte and then have two days off before playing in Milwaukee and finishing in Detroit.
Reserve guard Jamal Crawford was experienced enough not to offer an exact definition of what would be a satisfactory outcome of the trip.
"We did that last time and we kind of had our problems," Crawford said Sunday after he and his bench sidekicks did the job in the fourth quarter, sparking a 102-83 win over Toronto at Staples Center. The surging Clippers (14-6) have won six straight games, tying a season high.
But that "last time" Crawford referred to was a four-game trip last month. Ideally, for the Clippers, it could also serve as a defining moment for a special season.
Circle the date (Nov. 19) and the place (San Antonio).
The Clippers beat the Spurs by five points, lost at Oklahoma City by six in overtime two nights later, then faded in the fourth quarter at Brooklyn and lost at Atlanta. Their woes followed them home, where they dropped another game, to New Orleans, before the correction started in late November.
That has been the only real serious downturn in this season's opening 20-game segment.
Crawford said the Clippers might have learned something from their previous trip.
"I think we all did. Definitely," he said. "You can't take anything for granted. We started off the trip with a great win in San Antonio and we dropped three in a row. We'll take it one at a time and go from there."
The Clippers' Matt Barnes steered away from those cliches, and was willing to put up some numbers when asked the same question about a successful outcome on the road.
"Three and one," he said. "If we happen to slip and lose one game . . . we'd like to win 'em all. But I just think we have to have that mental toughness.
"Last time, we beat San Antonio and had a heartbreaking loss against OKC, it deflated our whole trip. . . . I think we have to have that road-warrior mind-set and be ready."
The Clippers have managed to win in clever, creative ways of late. They had to rely on their reserves during the recent homestand, in particular during the fourth quarter in consecutive wins against the Phoenix Suns and Raptors.
"The chemistry builds," Coach Vinny Del Negro said after Sunday's game. "We haven't been together that long, it seems like. But it's a new unit. We have seven new players. Guys are in and out of the lineup with injuries and things.
"But I think the chemistry with that second unit hopefully will continue and even get better. I'm concerned about the starters locking in when the game gets more physical. When things aren't going well, we've got to find a way to turn that quicker."
The 14-6 start is slightly better than the Clippers' first 20 games last season, when they opened 13-7.
The last time they started 14-6 was in 2005-06 — with Elton Brand, Sam Cassell and Chris Kaman — when they would go on to win 47 games, finish second in the division and win a first-round playoff series.
But these Clippers, with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, matched that accomplishment in the playoffs last spring. And this group obviously is hoping for a grander finish this season.