Matt Barnes battles for a loose ball. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The smooth operators of Lob City found themselves searching for a Plan B when the A-game went missing against the Sacramento Kings. It was looking ragged, at times. Even ugly.
Bigger picture: The Clippers' 12-point win Friday night was one of those statement-making games. Even beyond the fact that it was a franchise-record 12th consecutive victory.
Winning ugly sends a message, too.
After all, Showtime wasn't always Showtime. Championship teams find ways to get to the finish line on those fumbling, miscue-littered nights.
The old Clippers might have crumbled in the third quarter against the Kings. The new Clippers are finding different ways to get it done and that's what separates the elite from basketball's middle class.
"That's going to happen," reserve guard Eric Bledsoe said Saturday after a brief practice. "Every night is not going to be a good win. It's going to be a grind-it-out kind of game. We just had a little more talent and experience than Sacramento."
Meeting those mental challenges may not seem like a huge deal in December. But it could be an asset when the stakes are higher, much deeper in the season.
First, the Clippers go for their 13th straight victory, playing at Phoenix tonight.
"When your record speaks for itself, it's a different time," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It's a different era now. We want to make our own mark and not worry about what's happened in the past."
Blake Griffin offered a couple of telling observations about past and current perceptions of the Clippers.
"We realize we have a target on our back," Griffin said. "We've said this from the very beginning of the season. We know teams are pretty hyped when we come in and play them on the road. Or when teams come in to play us.
"It used to be you were coming in to play the Clippers, the trip to L.A. where you can go out and you can enjoy yourself."
In other words, it sounds like nightclubs might be a little less crowded.
There are differences, too, even in terms of pregame banter with the opposition.
"My rookie year when we played teams — we didn't have a great record," Griffin said. ". . . It was a lot more light-hearted. The other coaching staff would joke around with you and you could say something back to them.
"Now everybody takes everything a bit more personally. Because it is a big game."
But the Clippers haven't gone completely corporate and bland.
"For us, every game is more businesslike," Griffin said. "We have a good mix of being able to have fun, especially before games and even during games sometimes. But when we need to lock in, everybody knows it."
Bledsoe's highlight-reel block on the Kings' Jason Thompson was painful for both.
Clattering to the court, Bledsoe landed hard on his injured hip. "I kind of got shook up a little bit from the injury I had a couple of days ago," he said. "It's sore, but I played through it. That's probably the best way to do it, to play through it."
Was it a better block than his earlier one on Miami's Dwyane Wade?
Griffin: "I don't know. The one on Wade was nasty. It's up there. I don't know if I can rate either of those."