Off to a strong start to a season filled with high expectations, the Los Angeles Clippers are suddenly faced with some major adversity.
Playing their first game since losing veteran Chauncey Billups to a season-ending injury, the Clippers look to win five straight games away from home for the first time in 37 seasons while hoping to avoid a 10th consecutive road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Los Angeles (15-7) should be thrilled after opening its six-game road swing with wins at Washington and Orlando. However, the mood has soured after the team learned that Billups suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury during Monday's 107-102 overtime victory over the Magic.
Claimed off waivers by the Clippers in December, the five-time All-Star averaged 15.0 points and 4.0 assists for a team with the second-best record in the Western Conference.
"I'm sick about it," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I'm sick for him, I'm sick for us, but mostly for him and how much he means to us."
The Clippers stepped up by going 3-2 when star guard Chris Paul (18.5 points, 8.9 assists per game) was out with a sore hamstring last month. They hope the loss to a veteran like Billups won't be too much to overcome.
"We'll have to see what happens," Del Negro said. "We've definitely got to have everybody playing well."
Los Angeles showed its resiliency by overcoming a 15-point deficit to win its fourth straight road game following four consecutive losses away from Staples Center. The Clippers' franchise has not won five in a row on the road since Nov. 3-20, 1974, when they were the Buffalo Braves.
"We've got guys who are battle tested,'' said Paul, who finished with 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds Monday. "This shows how much grit and fight we have. We realize if we stick together in a tough environment, we are capable of winning games like this.''
Paul and fellow All-Star Blake Griffin (21.2 ppg, 10.9 rebounds per game) will try to help the Clippers maintain that attitude as they look to snap a nine-game road skid at Cleveland that dates to a 95-78 win March 10, 2002. That drought matches the club's second-longest active road losing streak.
That same run equals the longest current home winning streak for the Cavaliers.
Griffin scored 30 points to help the Clippers snap a nine-game overall skid to Cleveland with a 100-92 home win March 19.
Injuries to key contributors Daniel Gibson (neck), Tristan Thompson (ankle) and Anthony Parker (back) are beginning to take a toll on the Cavaliers (9-14), who dressed 11 players in Tuesday's 107-91 loss at Miami. Antawn Jamison had 25 points with nine rebounds while Anderson Varejao added 11 and 11 boards, but Cleveland was outscored 29-19 in the fourth quarter to fall for the eighth time in 11 games.
The Cavaliers have averaged 90.0 points on 41.9 percent shooting during that rough stretch.
"You're not going to win a lot of games when you're not get any contributions but again a lot of it had to do with the injuries," coach Byron Scott said. "I'm not trying to make any excuses."
Jamison has averaged 28.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in his last eight games against the Clippers.