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Suns' Alvin Gentry gives Clippers a ringing endorsement

Phoenix coach calls them title contenders, but players on NBA's hottest team don't want to look that far ahead.

December 24, 2012|By Broderick Turner
  • Suns Coach Alvin Gentry is quick to point out that the Clippers have reached an elite level.
Suns Coach Alvin Gentry is quick to point out that the Clippers have reached… (Tony Dejak / Associated…)

These are the words the Clippers won't dare say.

But one coach is more than willing.

"With their bench, there is no reason why they shouldn't be optimistic about having an opportunity to win a championship," Phoenix Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said in admiration.

There, Gentry said it for the Clippers.

His Suns had just been run over by a team winning its 13th game in a row.

The Clippers will tell you they are living in the moment, playing the next game and not looking ahead.

They will tell you that NBA championships are won in June and not in December.

"It's something we don't talk about because it is December and we have a long ways to go," Chris Paul said. "Regardless of your record and stuff like that, you have that feeling when you think it's that time. Like I said, we've got a ways to go."

But the ultimate goal is to win the NBA championship, right?

"No question," Paul said. "No question. We're in the wrong profession if it wasn't."

A national television audience will get an opportunity to see just how good these Clippers are when they play the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Christmas night on ESPN.

It's the second consecutive season the Clippers have played a game on Dec. 25, another sign of how far the organization has come.

"It usually means you're doing something right," Paul said. "Or you're on a guy like Blake Griffin's team.

"I'm excited because this is the first time I'll be at home playing on Christmas. I've got 30 of my family members here in town from North Carolina. Everybody will be at the game, so it's cool to have everybody there."

The Clippers have the longest winning streak in the NBA this season, surpassing by one that of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"It's tough to win two or three games in a row in this league," Paul said. "And for us to win 13, I think it means how well we're playing as a team. During the current streak, a lot of different guys have had good games."

Indeed.

With the Clippers' 21-6 start giving them the second-best record in the league, Griffin has led them in scoring 15 times, reserve guard Jamal Crawford eight times, Paul six, reserve Matt Barnes twice and starter Caron Butler once.

"A lot of people probably won't believe it, but we still have a ways to go," Paul said. "We can still get a lot better in a lot of areas — defensively and our turnovers.

"Another thing, too, we really haven't seen what our team looks like. We still don't have Chauncey [Billups] and Grant [Hill], who we think are going to be two huge pieces of our puzzle."

Billups (tendinitis in left foot) and Hill (bone bruise in right knee) are still a ways away from playing.

"We need to get complete as a team," Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We need to get Chauncey back, we need to get Grant back and see how that chemistry works. So we have a lot of work to do. But it's good work and I'm getting good, hard effort from guys and that's a big key."

After the way the Clippers handled his team during a 26-point thrashing, don't tell Gentry, who coached the Clippers a decade ago, they can actually get better.

"They probably are the best team in the league," Gentry said, "and they are playing like it right now."

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broderick.turner@latimes.com

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