LOS ANGELES (AP) — Doc Rivers has spent most of the regular season coming up with patchwork lineups and hoping for a healthy future for the Los Angeles Clippers. Although they’ve got an outstanding record, their roster had only been fully healthy for a half-dozen games.
That healthy future is finally here, and it looks beautiful. When the deep, talented Clippers were all together Friday night, even a fellow Western Conference power didn’t stand much of a chance.
Paul George hit six 3-pointers while scoring 24 points, Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and the Clippers routed Denver 132-103 for their third straight win.
Montrezl Harrell had 18 points and 10 rebounds while Lou Williams scored 17 points and hit five 3-pointers in a comprehensively dominant win for the Clippers, who never trailed. LA evened the teams’ season series while sending the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets to their worst loss of the season.
After four months of injury problems and a trade-deadline reshuffling, the Clippers’ roster was completely intact for only the seventh time all season. They’re unbeaten in those seven games, and the veteran coach had trouble thinking of any significant flaws in their performance in one of their biggest tests of the year.
“The one thing this team has not lacked is confidence,” Rivers said. “Even when we weren’t playing well. But it definitely helps to start doing it. Then everyone sees what you’re capable of, and it takes you to another level.”
In a meeting of two elite teams hoping to win their franchises’ first championship in this suddenly wide-open league, the Clippers pulled even with Denver in the conference standings at 40-19. Both teams trail only the Lakers (45-12) for the West’s best record.
But in one of its biggest regular-season games of the year, Los Angeles produced stellar defense and merciless offense. Nine Clippers scored at least seven points, and they hit 46.2% of their 3-point attempts (18 for 39).
“It’s a big win,” Williams said. “I think it was important for us to get that game. We’ve got a lot of challenges coming up, and it was important to start with this one.”
Nikola Jokic had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Jerami Grant added 20 points as the Nuggets took a loss that was even worse than their 26-point defeat at Houston on New Year’s Eve. Denver lost for only the fourth time in 12 games overall.
“Oh, it’s a long list,” Denver coach Michael Malone said when asked what disappointed him. “I would just say the overall fight, from beginning to end. I thought we were soft tonight, from beginning to end. We couldn’t run offense because they took us out of our stuff. They’re a good team, but I’m just very disappointed with our competitive spirit and our effort.”
The Nuggets beat the Clippers 114-104 in the teams’ first meeting of the season last month, but George missed it with his hamstring problem. With both teams at full strength for the rematch, the Clippers were too much offensively for Denver’s normally stingy defense.
Los Angeles pulled away steadily in the second half, eventually taking a 25-point lead on Williams’ fifth 3-pointer with 7:12 to play and pouring it on when reserves wrapped it up.
“We held each other accountable in the locker room, just saying we got punked,” Denver guard Monte Morris said. “If we want to take that next step, games like this, we’ve got to be ready to play. The coaches only can do so much. … Will (Barton) had a good speech for us for about five minutes. It was just about how teams think we’re soft, and think if they get into us, they can disorient anything we do. And they did that tonight.”
Although the Clippers roared out with a 37-point first quarter, the Nuggets briefly kept it close with help from Grant. The backup guard built on his career-high 29 points against Detroit on Tuesday with 14 in the first half at Staples Center.
Nuggets: Coach Mike Malone effusively praised the Clips before the game: “I don’t see any weaknesses that they have.” … Jamal Murray was held to 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Clippers: This formerly woeful franchise has won 40 games in nine consecutive seasons. That’s the third-longest active streak in the NBA behind Oklahoma City (10) and San Antonio Spurs (20). … LA is 12-1 when hitting at least 15 3-pointers. … Chargers WR Keenan Allen watched the game from the baseline. Afterward, he exchanged No. 13 jerseys with George.
George rebounded emphatically after four relatively pedestrian games, at least by his lofty standards. The six-time All-Star has been struggling with the latest flare-up of his balky left hamstring, which has sidelined him for three stints this season. His six 3-pointers against Denver were one shy of his season high, and he needed only eight attempts to do it.
Leonard gave away Clippers backpacks to every fan at Staples Center, and he encouraged them to fill the bags with food, books, gifts or another charitable donation before giving it to someone in need. The soft-spoken star’s charity initiative is called Kawhi It.
Clippers newcomer Reggie Jackson had a strong two-way performance, getting 10 points in an excellent first half and adding eight rebounds and seven assists. The veteran is enjoying his part in the Clippers’ rich talent base. “I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he said.
Nuggets: Host the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
Clippers: Host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.
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