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Clippers making strides as a team

January 15, 2012 |  8:00 am
Clippers guard Chris Paul beats Lakers big men Andrew Bynum (17) and Pau Gasol (16) for a layup on Saturday night at Staples Center

They played only three games last week, but it was three games against some of the best teams the NBA has to offer.

In the process of going 2-1 last week, the Clippers say they made strides.

The only bump in the road was Chris Paul straining his left hamstring against the Lakers on Saturday night during the Clippers’ 102-94 victory at Staples Center.

PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Clippers

Otherwise, the Clippers felt good about how the week ended.

They lost to a tough Portland team in a tough place to play Tuesday night at the Rose Garden Tuesday

They returned home to play a back-to-back game against the Miami Heat Wednesday night and won that game.

They finished off the week with a stirring victory over the Lakers, breaking their five-game winning streak.

“I think instead of taking baby steps, we’re skipping a step,” said Chauncey Billups, who had 19 points on six-for-12 shooting against the Lakers. “And I think these two games –- even the Portland game, to be honest with you –- we got better. That’s all you can really ask for.”

Well, the Clippers could ask for better health.

Paul will be re-evaluated Sunday.

He had just made a 12-foot jumper for a 95-82 Clippers lead with 4:01 left when Paul grabbed his leg.

“I thought it was a cramp, but he let me know it wasn’t,” Paul said about Clippers trainer Jasen Powell. “It was something. I’ve never had it.”

If Paul can’t play Monday when the Clippers host the New Jersey Nets and if Mo Williams misses his second consecutive game with an injured right foot, that would put more pressure on Billups to become the point guard.

“I won’t say it’s pressure,” Billups said. “I hope Chris doesn’t miss a game at all, but if he does, we’ve got enough talent in this room that we’ll be OK.”

Paul was outstanding against the Lakers, scoring 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting, handing out six assists and grabbing four rebounds. And he did it all in 39 minutes and 14 seconds with only one turnover.

Paul was equally as outstanding in the fourth quarter.

He had 10 points on four-for-six shooting, including two for three from three-point range.

“I thought it was very gusty,” Billups said about Paul. “It was awesome, man. They couldn’t guard him in pick and rolls and he kind of had his way. His shot was going. He was unbelievable tonight.”

The Clippers had their hands full with Kobe Bryant, just like the rest of the NBA in his recent games.

Bryant scored 42 points on 14-of-28 shooting. It was his fourth consecutive game scoring 40 or more points.

“We knew that we wouldn’t stop Kobe,” Billups said. “He’s a great player. He’s on a hot streak right now. But as I see it, to me I don’t really care how many points he scores. It’s all about us winning the game. That was the big deal for us.”

Paul saw a lot of things out of the Clippers that he was happy about.

They outrebounded the Lakers, 50-42. They limited the Lakers to 45.5% shooting.

And in the process, the Clippers improved to 5-1 at home.

“We’re getting better defensively,” Paul said. “It would have been nice to get that win in Portland. But we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and that’s to take care of home. Before we run out on the court, we say, ‘Protect our court.’ And we did that.”

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-- Broderick Turner

Photo: Clippers guard Chris Paul beats Lakers big men Andrew Bynum (17) and Pau Gasol (16) for a layup on Saturday night at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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