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Clippers keep pace in playoff chase with victory over Philadelphia

Chris Paul has 19 points and nine assists in a 101-72 win over the 76ers. The Clippers keep up with red-hot Denver and Memphis in the standings.

March 20, 2013|By Ben Bolch

The Clippers are no longer quite so selective these days. Their to-do list before the playoffs has changed from collecting marquee victories to collecting victories of any sort.

A case of March malaise has left the team that once held the best record in the NBA in danger of opening the playoffs on the road.

So a 101-72 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at Staples Center was welcome even if it was ragged at times, particularly in the early going.

Chris Paul shook off a horrid performance from 24 hours earlier to finish with 19 points on eight-for-10 shooting to go with nine assists, six rebounds and five steals.

It was only slightly better than his seven-turnover, two-for-10 shooting performance the previous night against the Sacramento Kings. Just slightly.

Paul's defensive tenacity was shared by his teammates, who held the 76ers to 36.7% shooting, combined for 13 steals and limited point guard Jrue Holiday to two points on one-for-eight shooting.

It was just what the Clippers needed to salvage the second half of a back-to-back situation that included a dreadful loss to the Kings the previous night.

"You need it at times to remind you that you are capable of doing things the right way, and I think our aggressive mentality helped us," Paul said. "Obviously they missed a few shots, but our energy was just great."

Forward Caron Butler added 14 points and Blake Griffin was effective in many ways, logging seven points, nine rebounds and six assists. Two of his assists came on alley-oop passes that DeAndre Jordan turned into thunderous dunks.

Although the Clippers' 81/2-game lead over Golden State in the Pacific Division with 13 games left in the regular season practically assures them of finishing with no worse than a No. 4 seeding in the Western Conference, they would lose homecourt advantage if they finished with a worse record than the team they played in the first round.

The Clippers (47-22) are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the fourth-best record in the West, percentage points behind Memphis (46-21).

Bad news for the Clippers: Denver and Memphis are two of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Worse news: The Clippers aren't.

"There will be no easy routes in the playoffs, honestly," said Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who had 12 points on his 33rd birthday. "For us, it's not really about the standings so much as how we're playing heading down the stretch.."

The Clippers have been stuck in a win-one-lose-one rut that has lasted more than two weeks, the low point coming against Sacramento as they allowed the Kings to make 50% of their three-pointers.

There was a carryover in the first quarter Wednesday, the Clippers missing their first five shots and committing two turnovers while spotting Philadelphia the first eight points.

But the Clippers rallied and were able to get some separation during a second quarter in which they outscored the 76ers, 26-16, while receiving highlights from unusual suspects. Reserve big man Ryan Hollins contributed a dunk in transition and Maalik Wayns, filling in as the backup point guard with Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe sidelined by injuries, had five points in the quarter.

The Clippers led 46-36 at halftime and increased their advantage to as many as 31 points in the second half. They rested their starters for most of the fourth quarter. That their success came against the 76ers (26-41) didn't bother the Clippers. They're not too picky right now.

"We've just got to win games," Coach Vinny Del Negro said.

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