Jamal Crawford, left, shown playing against Denver's Ty Lawson,… (Jason Redmond / Associated…)
As Jamal Crawford lingered in the Clippers' locker room late Friday night, two children darted across the carpet while two others swiveled in oversized chairs in front of Matt Barnes' locker.
Crawford sat on a counter contemplating the scene and a season that has seemed like child's play for the veteran shooting guard.
"I haven't had this much fun," he said, "since high school."
Crawford is among the big men on the Clippers' campus, leading the NBA in bench scoring and building buzz as the probable sixth man of the year and a possible All-Star reserve.
He was averaging 16.5 points per game before Saturday and had led his team in scoring 10 times in 33 games, though those numbers were of secondary importance.
Crawford was far more wowed by the Clippers' 26-8 record and recent 17-game winning streak. That kind of success speaks to someone who had never previously won more than seven consecutive games in his pro career.
"Crazy, right?" said Crawford, who spent his early NBA days on some laughably bad Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks teams. Even when Crawford enjoyed two relatively successful seasons in Atlanta, the Hawks never made it past the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now that he's winning big with the Clippers, the joke is on the rest of the NBA.
Crawford, 32, has thrived by being himself. That means shooting and scoring almost from the moment he enters the game.
"I want Jamal to be Jamal," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Jamal is a scorer and we have to get him shots and he's going to make shots for us and make big plays because he's very difficult to cover."
Crawford had scored 20 points or more 13 times prior to the Clippers' game against Golden State on Saturday. He was particularly effective late in games, his 217 points in the fourth quarter trailing only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Bryant has endorsed Crawford for sixth man of the year since early November, praise that Crawford said was trumped only by teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lobbying for him to be selected for next month's All-Star Game in Houston.
"It's weird to even be coming off the bench and hear All-Star talk," Crawford said. "That's pretty cool."
Crawford has made being a reserve fashionable since he started doing it three years ago with the Hawks, averaging 18 points on the way to becoming the league's sixth man of the year.
Not that going from starter to reserve was an easy transition.
In his first game as a designated backup, in October 2009, Crawford quickly found his way back onto the bench. He took three shots and scored only three points in 13 minutes.
Some encouragement from Atlanta Coach Mike Woodson and star Joe Johnson helped Crawford realize they envisioned a bigger role for him.
"They were like, 'No, we need you to score,' " Crawford recalled. "'Just because you're the sixth man doesn't mean you're not a huge part of this team.' "
The Clippers considered making Crawford a fill-in starter for the injured Chauncey Billups before deciding otherwise, realizing that Crawford's scoring punch would be best utilized with the second unit.
Opposing defenses certainly know where the ball is going when Crawford is on the court.
"He's treated like a star," said Barnes, the reserve forward who often plays alongside Crawford. "They're sending two guys at him, sometimes three, and shading him, and he knows when there's that much attention on him that someone else is going to be open. I've been the recipient of a lot of his good passes."
Crawford said his success reminds him of the season he was sixth man of the year with the Hawks, with one notable exception: His team has a realistic chance to win an NBA title.
"We won 53 games that year," Crawford said, "but this year we're truly contenders for a championship and that makes it special. Most teams you look around and say, 'Oh, you need a bench or you need a big guy or a great point guard.' We have everything."
Including squealing kids in the locker room.
"You see the family and everybody is in here," Crawford said, surveying the scene, "so it's a totally different atmosphere than I've ever seen before."
Considering where Crawford has been and where he hopes to go, he wants nothing less.