The Los Angeles Clippers have played better than anyone likely expected without Chris Paul.
The Denver Nuggets haven't been as fortunate in back-to-back losses without their point guard, but they hope to have Ty Lawson back as they host the Clippers on Monday night.
Paul has missed the last 15 games after separating his right shoulder, though he hopes to be back before the All-Star break, which begins Feb. 14.
However, despite not having Paul - who is the NBA's leader in assists and second in steals - Los Angeles (34-16) has gone 11-4 and added to its divisional lead. The Clippers led Golden State by just one game in the Pacific prior to Paul's injury. Now they enjoy a 3 1/2-game edge over Phoenix while the Warriors are four back.
Los Angeles prevailed again without Paul in a 102-87 home win over Utah on Saturday, getting 27 points from Jamal Crawford off the bench while Blake Griffin had 25 and 11 rebounds. Both have elevated their play in Paul's absence, with Griffin averaging 25.3 points over the last 15 contests, up from a 23.0 average. Crawford is averaging 21.7 points during the stretch without Paul after averaging 18.1 previously and has 20 or more points in eight of his last 10.
The Clippers, who are 14-13 away from home, pulled away with an 18-3 third-quarter run after entering halftime in a 42-all tie.
"We got some stops, got some good ball pressure defensively and forced them to take some tough shots in the open court," Griffin said. " ... When everybody's on the same page like we were at the end of the third quarter, we're a much better team."
Griffin tallied 24 points and 16 rebounds in a 112-91 home win over Denver on Dec. 21, while Crawford scored 27 and was 6 of 12 from 3-point range. Los Angeles was 13 of 33 from beyond the arc while Denver went 6 for 30.
The Nuggets (22-23) have lost five of seven, including consecutive home losses to Charlotte and Toronto after winning five of their last six at the Pepsi Center.
Lawson, who recorded double-doubles in 11 of 13 contests before being sidelined, is expected to be a game-time decision. Denver is also without key reserve Nate Robinson after he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL on Friday.
"We don't want anybody to feel sorry for us and we won't feel sorry for ourselves," coach Brian Shaw said. "We just have to continue to fight, stay positive, keep working and just be more fundamentally sound."
Without Lawson, Randy Foye started at point guard against Toronto on Friday and finished with 10 points and a career-best 16 assists. He also committed eight of the Nuggets' 26 turnovers, though, their most in nearly two years.
The Raptors scored 29 points off those turnovers.
Denver is averaging 91.5 points and 18.3 turnovers in four games without Lawson compared to 104.7 points and 14.8 turnovers with him.
"Randy played 43 minutes, Evan (Fournier) 38 minutes, and they're not accustomed to playing that many minutes as well," Shaw said after the loss to Toronto. "They started getting tired, then we started losing our fundamentals and throwing the ball all over the place. That was our biggest thing tonight."
Los Angeles has won seven of the teams' last 10 meetings, though the Nuggets have taken 11 of the last 13 in Denver.
The Associated Press News Service
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