|Clippers, Lakers headed in different directions|
LOS ANGELES -- With each game, Blake Griffin says the Los Angeles Clippers are closer to returning to the form that made them one of the top NBA clubs early in the season.
"We've been better," Griffin said after the Clippers defeated the New York Knicks 114-105 on Monday night at Staples Center. "I'd like to see us execute like this in a little bit more stressful environment, on the road or in different situations. It's a good sign. It's always nice to have a game where most everybody is under 30 minutes. We get to rest in the fourth quarter and get ready for the Lakers."
The Clippers (42-29) will be the road team when they face the Los Angeles Lakers (20-50) on Tuesday at Staples. Being the visiting club hasn't mattered much in recent times for the Clippers, who have won 12 of the past 13 games against the Lakers.
In their last meeting on Jan. 14, the Clippers earned a 113-97 win despite playing without Griffin, who was recovering from knee surgery. DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul more than made up for Griffin's absence. Jordan had 24 points and 21 rebounds, while Paul added 20 points and 13 assists.
That win allowed the Clippers to avenge a 111-102 victory by the Lakers on Christmas Day. Although Paul and Griffin sat out the contest with injuries, the Lakers still considered it a breakthrough since they ended an 11-game losing streak to the Clippers.
Against the Knicks, Griffin scored a game-high 30 points as the Clippers closed to within a game of the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
"I got to the basket early. I saw some go in," said Griffin, who converted 12 of 19 shots and 3 of 4 from long distance. "I thought it was a big point for us (to make) transitions, rim-running, bigs rim-running. I got some easy ones early."
The Lakers haven't had an easy time of it, dropping their fifth in a row Sunday, a 125-120 loss to Cleveland. The Lakers led by 10 entering the fourth quarter but were outscored 43-28 in the final period to fall to their sixth consecutive defeat to the Cavaliers.
D'Angelo Russell, who started for Nick Young (gastroenteritis), scored a career-high 40 points with six assists and one turnover in 41 minutes. Russell converted 7 of 12 shots from 3-point range and 14 of 22 overall. He scored 37 points in the three quarters.
"I think it started with him knocking down shots," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "I think we've seen him when he gets going, he's tough to handle. What was most impressive offensively to me, because I already know he can shoot the ball, but he did a great job of mixing it up and trying to get into the paint and playmaking on offense, purposely calling certain plays to get people the ball and coming off picks and making correct decisions."
The Lakers committed only six turnovers during the game, but four of those occurred in the fourth. However, the effort was one of their best in recent games.