With Chris Paul back in the fold, the Los Angeles Clippers have plenty of reasons to be feeling good heading into the All-Star break.
For the struggling Portland Trail Blazers, some time off seemingly can only help.
Los Angeles looks to win a fifth straight home meeting with Portland while dealing the Blazers a sixth defeat in nine games Wednesday night.
The Pacific Division-leading Clippers (36-18) went 12-6 after Paul suffered a separated shoulder Jan. 3, and they were sparked by the point guard's return Sunday against Philadelphia.
Paul had seven points and eight assists in nearly 23 minutes as Los Angeles set a franchise record for largest margin of victory in a 123-78 rout. Blake Griffin had 26 points and 11 rebounds while DeAndre Jordan added 10 points and 20 boards.
'(Paul) set the tone,' said Jamal Crawford, who had 21 points and is averaging 24.3 while starting the last three contests in place of the injured J.J. Redick. 'The energy from when he was introduced, to the level of play that he brings, it makes everybody better.'
The return of Paul didn't seem to disrupt any chemistry like he had feared. Griffin, averaging 28.6 points over his last 17, continued his strong play and Los Angeles again made do without Redick, who is expected to miss his fourth straight game with a sore right hip.
'It felt great just to play. You never know what it's going to be like until you actually get out there and compete,' Paul said. 'A lot of things go through your mind out there, especially when you come back because you want to make sure you're not too tired and not trying too hard. But at the same time, we've been playing extremely well and I didn't want to break up our rhythm.'
The Clippers had dropped three of four before winning their last two and are feeling confident as the break approaches. Griffin will start for the Western Conference All-Stars, while Paul will head to New Orleans as a reserve.
"We're hitting a little bit of a stride," Griffin said. "We're more than halfway through the season. Hopefully, we're getting to a point everybody's going to be healthy and so hopefully this is the time, you know, March and April that you hit your stride."
Griffin and Paul each had stellar performances in the first meeting with Portland, though it wasn't enough in a 116-112 overtime defeat Dec. 26. Griffin had 35 points and 11 rebounds while Paul finished with 34 points and 16 assists, but LaMarcus Aldridge had 32 points and 10 boards in the victory.
Nicolas Batum hit a 3-pointer with 5.3 second left in regulation to send that contest into OT.
The Blazers (36-16), who are seeking their first road win over the Clippers since Oct. 27, 2010, are coming off Tuesday's 98-95 home loss to Oklahoma City. Batum scored a team-high 18 points - one of six Blazers in double figures - while Aldridge went 5 of 22 from the field and finished with 12 points and 12 boards.
'I couldn't throw a rock in a lake tonight,' Aldridge said.
Portland shot 37.6 percent and scored fewer than 100 points for the fifth time in eight games. The league's highest-scoring team at 107.7 points per game - 1.0 more than the Clippers - has lost six of its last seven contests when failing to reach triple digits.
The Blazers hope to have Mo Williams back after missing the last three while attending to a family matter.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved