LOS ANGELES -- The Houston Rockets got off to a fast start in their visit to Staples Center on Wednesday night.
Houston, there's just one problem -- the Los Angeles Clippers were off to the races.
Returning from their annual Grammy Awards road trip, the Clippers felt right at home in a hurry, jumping out to a huge early lead with their highest-scoring first quarter of the season as they cruised to a 106-96 win over the Rockets.
In the first quarter, Caron Butler scored 17 points, Chris Paul had 10 and the recently returned Chauncey Billups had seven as the Clippers piled 46 points. Los Angeles gained an eight-point lead less than five minutes into the game as the offense poured in from all over the court. The Clippers tallied six first-quarter 3-pointers and shot 17-for-22 (77.3 percent).
"The biggest thing is we were letting our defense create our offense," Paul said. "We're just as tough in transition. We were getting stops, scoring, getting shots, Chauncey got it going early for us making shots, and we were getting stops."
Added Billups: "I'm getting better. I'm getting better. I'm not in the game-shape condition I need to be in right now. It's going to take me a few weeks, take me a little while, but I'm playing with some great players.
While Los Angeles cooled off drastically, shooting worse than 32 percent in the second quarter and 37.5 percent in the third, the damage had already been done, and Houston trailed by double figures for almost the entire game.
The Clippers, though, treaded lightly, even with the Rockets without the services of James Harden. The star scorer was sidelined due to a sprained ankle.
"That's a team, with the way they play, they're never out of the game," Paul said. "They play fast, they never walk the ball up the court, they shoot a lot of 3s. They're always going to be in the game."
Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 20 points and added 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Butler and Billups each had 19 for the Clippers, but Butler hit just one of his last six shots after going 7-for-9 -- including 3-for-3 from 3-point range -- in the first quarter. Paul had 10 points (all in the first quarter) and 11 assists, and super-sub Jamal Crawford added 13 points off the Clippers' bench.
Houston doomed its comeback by shooting just 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) from behind the 3-point arc, including a 2-for-12 showing by the team's starting lineup, which sorely missed Harden.
The Rockets had six players score in double figures, but no one had more than Chandler Parsons' 17. Jeremy Lin added 14 points and seven assists, James Anderson had 14 points off the bench for Houston, and Lithuanian rookie Donatas Motiejunas added 13 points after never scoring more than six in his previous 17 NBA games.
"We had the opportunities to make it a tight game," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "We missed layups, had turnovers that can't happen. We just never could catch up."
The Clippers (38-17) will be the "road" team against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in their final game before the All-Star break. The Rockets (29-26) are already on vacation, and they don't resume action until a Wednesday home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
NOTES: Harden, whose 26.1 points per game rank fifth in the NBA, missed a game for just the second time this season. He also sat out a 134-126 home loss to San Antonio on Dec. 10. Lin scored 38 points that day in the loss. ... Billups (sore lower back) and Butler (sore lower back) were both considered game-time decisions but started. ... Toney Douglas (left hip pointer) missed the game for Houston. ... Los Angeles won the first matchup this season, 117-109, on Jan. 15. Crawford had 30 points in the win, which Paul missed because of a bruised kneecap. ... The Clippers' hot start Wednesday was nothing new for them against Houston. Los Angeles scored a season-high 41 first-quarter points in a 117-89 win over the Rockets on Jan. 4, 2012. ... The Rockets held a huge advantages in points in the paint, 54-32, and fast-break points, 21-8.