The Clippers showed little effort as their 17-game winning streak came… (Jack Dempsey / Associated…)
DENVER — How do you not show up when you have a chance to win 18 straight games and continue to change the way folks think about you?
Who is coaching this Clippers team, Lane Kiffin?
The Clippers have had a number of seasons in which they didn't win 17 straight, and now they are blasé, wanting everyone to believe this is just business as usual?
The other night, Chris Paul is giving a postgame interview and the team's PR staff cuts it short.
The Clippers haven't had anything to sell for decades, they have never had it going as good as the last few weeks, and suddenly they're acting like big shots?
They lose this one, 92-78, to Denver, and Blake Griffin announces the "sharks" have arrived when the media is admitted into the locker room.
Matt Barnes turns up the music so reporters cannot hear the answers to their questions.
It doesn't matter apparently how many pats on the back they have gotten over the last 17 games, they still don't know how to act like winners.
The 17-game streak suddenly had people talking about the Clippers' championship prospects. Everything is now a test to see whether the perennial losers have what it takes to be winners.
"Why?'' asked Paul.
"You know the franchise you're playing for and its history,'' I said. "It's not like it's breaking news."
"Why do I have to make a case for the team?'' says Paul. "We're not on trial."
"Well, yes you are,'' I said.
"I didn't know that,'' said Paul.
"I just expected more tonight from a team now being talked about in loftier circles,'' I said.
"I'm sorry. I apologize. We've got to do better,'' says Paul, while rolling with the postgame conversation as he always does. "For me what I think about is our whole season has been about streaks.
"We won two games to start and then lost two, we won four and then lost four and then we won 17….''
"So that means this is the beginning of a 17-game losing streak?" I suggest while rolling with the postgame conversation as I always do.
The Clippers were never in this one, the team a "step slow'' as Griffin put it. In other words, they didn't show up.
Thanks for the New Year's memories.
"I told the guys I was proud of them," said Coach Vinny Del Negro, presumably because Denver didn't score 100.
"No, no, because of the streak and everything they've dealt with and the way they have stayed together," said Del Negro.
So the first mention of the streak by the Clippers is after they have gotten beaten by something like 100 points and "run out of the building,'' as the Nuggets' radio broadcaster put it.
A team wins 17 in a row, and more should be expected of it every night, especially when mentioned in some corners as a championship contender.
"We didn't deserve to win because we didn't play hard enough,'' said Del Negro, but he's proud of his slackers.
No one expects a team to win them all, or 18 in a row for that matter, but losing because the effort is not there should be unacceptable.
Especially when Denver Coach George Karl said before the game, "I think the Clippers play more intense minutes than anybody in the NBA.''
Here's guessing he mentioned that to his own team by way of preparation, as Paul said later, "They kept the pressure on us for all 48 minutes.''
Karl went on to praise the Clippers' bench.
"I think their bench plays harder than the first unit. They play with a ferocious intensity.''
They did before suiting up for this game.
Now as for buying into recent talk the Clippers might be legitimate championship contenders, Karl said, "I don't want to sign that contract yet. But I probably will.''
The Clippers are on trial, all right, and how they handle success will be just as important as how they handle defeat.
It begins with Paul, one of the most competitive players in the game, but who didn't recognize the trouble his team was in before it was too late.
He took three shots in the first half, finishing with nine shots for the game.
He's one of the game's best closers, but why wait so long to demonstrate his effectiveness as a scorer?
"I hope you all in Los Angeles appreciate what a great point guard you're watching," Karl said. "He's a candidate right now for defensive player of the year. And his leadership and the intangibles he brings to the game are contagious."
And that's why he has to do more when nobody else seems capable of doing so.
"Maybe I can beg off tomorrow night's game with Golden State," I told Paul, now that the streak is over.
"We're going to lose that one too?" he asked.
"Probably," I suggested.
"Shoot, then let's just go home," Paul said. "I'd love to go home and see my wife and kids."
"Fine, let's fly home together on United."
"No, I'm going to take Delta," says Paul.
I think he was just kidding, but it will be interesting to see who does show up to play Golden State.
As good as they are at beating the crummy teams in the league to put together a winning streak, they might have to wait to start another streak Friday when they play the Lakers.