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A big change of pace for the Clippers

CLIPPERS FYI

The Clippers' schedule had them jogging through the opening weeks of the NBA season, but now the team is moving at a sprint.

January 19, 2012|By Baxter Holmes
  • Clippers guard Mo Williams sets up the offense during a game earlier this month.
Clippers guard Mo Williams sets up the offense during a game earlier this… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Like a team avoiding the flu, the Clippers staved off the hectic, lockout-induced schedule early on.

Their season ticked off at a slow clip while other teams — including their Staples Center cotenants, the Lakers — ground through back-to-back-to-back marathons.

But looming on the Clippers' calendar was a slew of games that promised trips from city to city, jet lag and weary legs.

Guard Mo Williams said a relatively relaxed opening to the season helped the Clippers (8-4) get off to a strong start.

"But it's coming back on us now," Williams said Wednesday night while his 29-year-old legs were soaking in a bucket of ice after he scored a game-high 26 points in a 91-89 win against the Dallas Mavericks.

After playing a league-low nine games through the first 21/2 weeks of the season, the Clippers are slogging through a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch that ends Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves (6-8) at Staples Center.

So far in that run, which included the first of the Clippers' two back-to-back-to-back sets of the season, the Clippers are 3-1. But playing at such a pace requires adjustments.

Blake Griffin said he doesn't take as many shots during shoot-arounds as he usually would.

"I've got to pick my spots and rest a little bit," the Clippers All-Star forward said.

The heavy schedule also makes postgame ice baths that much more important, Williams said.

Another key is balancing playing time by trying to find lineups that keep the team competitive while not overworking certain players.

Coach Vinny Del Negro "has been really good about controlling guys' minutes," said guard Chauncey Billups, who is averaging 31.5 minutes. "He's done a great job with that."

Del Negro also gave the Clippers the day off Thursday, a rare move for most coaches on the day before a game.

For the Clippers, these adjustments are timely because their schedule will soon be booked solid. In February, they play 14 games. In March, they play 20 games, including their second back-to-back-to-back set of games March 20-22.

Griffin vs. Love

Minnesota's Kevin Love and the Clippers' Griffin are considered by many to be the league's top two power forwards, and a strong performance by either Friday could help sway those undecided about which player is better.

Love is considered more versatile because of his outside shooting (he is shooting 36% from three-point range this season) and his rebounding prowess (he is averaging 14.5, second-best in the NBA).

Griffin pulls down 11.8 rebounds a game, fourth-best in the league, but he is a more explosive athlete with brute strength. Through Wednesday, Griffin ranked second in the NBA with 32 dunks.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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