LOS ANGELES (AP) - Having wrapped up December with just the third 16-0 month in NBA history, the Los Angeles Clippers face tough challenges starting the new year.
They’ll play four games this week, with two opponents having winning records and the other at .500. The Clippers take their franchise-record 17-game winning streak into Denver on Tuesday night, where the Nuggets are 9-1 at home.
“It’ll be a big test for us,” forward Blake Griffin said.
Denver (17-15) is the first game of a back-to-back, with a visit to Golden State on Wednesday. The Warriors handed the Clippers their first loss of the season Nov. 3. The Clippers return home Friday to host the Lakers, a team they’ve already beaten once and who are back to .500. Then comes the second game of another back-to-back against the Warriors.
The Clippers haven’t lost since Nov. 26.
“I want to do this every year,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “This has got to be a staple of how we go about doing our business. We’re thinking bigger than the streak.”
The Clippers went 16-0 in December to join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, which included Del Negro, and 1971-72 Lakers as the only teams to go undefeated in a month. Their franchise-record winning streak is the longest since Boston won 19 in a row four years ago.
“I am amazed because I haven’t done it since I’ve been in the league,” said Chris Paul a seven-year veteran who had 19 points and nine assists against Utah.
The Clippers kept their streak alive despite Griffin scoring just seven points due to foul trouble. Their bench came through again, with Jamal Crawford scoring 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Butler sat in the fourth quarter after playing “out of his mind” as Griffin put it in the opening quarter, when the veteran scored 17 points and hit five of his six 3-pointers.
“It’s a tribute to everybody in here,” Griffin said. “Everybody has been a huge part one night or the other. It’s a selfless attitude the team has taken on. This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.”
“We really haven’t had an opportunity to see what it looks like,” Paul said of the entire team.
Still, they’ve won 11 of their 17 games by 12 points or more, and their defense has allowed 100 points just three times during the streak. They’ve been winning so handily that Paul and Griffin rarely have to play in the fourth quarter. Both are averaging career low minutes in the final period this season.
“We expect to win every time we step out on the court,” Butler said. “We have a good mixture of young guys and veterans, and we do a good job of policing ourselves. Coach lets us control the environment. We do a great job being unselfish on and off the court.”
A 112-100 home win over the Nuggets on Christmas is part of the streak. Crawford scored 22 points to lead six Clippers in double figures, and Los Angeles held Nuggets leading scorer Danilo Gallinari to seven points on 1-of-10 shooting.
Denver won two straight following that loss before suffering an 81-72 defeat at Memphis on Saturday. The Nuggets scored their fewest points of the season while allowing their fewest.
Gallinari, who had a career-high 39 points in a 106-85 win at Dallas on Friday night, was limited to seven on 2-of-8 shooting as the Nuggets played for the fourth time in five days.
“We just ran out of gas, and ran out of bodies,” coach George Karl said. “We didn’t have anybody really playing a great game. We worked them as hard as we could. The fight was good, but then with the fourth quarter and turnovers, it just broke our hearts.”
Los Angeles has won two in a row at Denver following a nine-game skid there, and the Clippers have taken the past three and six of seven overall meetings.