LOS ANGELES (AP) - The addition of Jamal Crawford to an already dangerous roster of seasoned veterans and All-Stars is expected to play a huge part in the Los Angeles Clippers' goal of back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since the Larry Brown era.
Crawford got 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Clippers pull off a 96-94 preseason victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night after they trailed by 15 points.
Los Angeles built its margin to 83-72 on a layup and a pair of free throws by Eric Bledsoe with 6:45 to play. Utah tied it 92-all on a 3-pointer by Alec Burks that capped a 20-9 run with a minute remaining, but Crawford responded with a three-point play off a layup to put the Clippers ahead for good.
``We're lucky to have somebody like Jamal. He's a great closer,' Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. ``He knows how to play, he's a veteran and he's going to help us win a lot of games down the stretch this year. I don't think anybody can guard him in the open court. He's a threat, especially coming off screens when he's handling the ball.'
Former Clipper Randy Foye's attempt at a tying layup was swatted out of bounds by Ryan Hollins with 5.2 seconds left, and Foye missed a 20-footer from the left of the key as time expired.
Blake Griffin scored 11 of his 23 points in the third quarter, and Jordan added 16 rebounds and 11 points for the Clippers. Chris Paul had six points and nine assists in his second game back after undergoing surgery on his right thumb in August.
Coach Vinny Del Negro rested all of his starters throughout the fourth quarter and didn't play Grant Hill and Lamar Odom at all in the Clippers' first game back from an eight-day, two-game trip to China.
``I know guys are still a little tired, and we've also got a lot of guys sick - some of them weren't even at the shootaround this morning. But you never want to use excuses like that,' Griffin said. ``We never want to come out flat like that, but I'm really proud of the way we fought back. Coach kind of got into us at halftime and we responded, which is great.'
Foye, the first player off the Utah bench in his Staples Center homecoming, received a warm greeting from the crowd of 14,617 when he reported in late in the opening period and responded with a pair of 3-pointers less than 2 minutes apart to help Utah maintain a slim lead. He had 17 points for the Jazz, who were coming off back-to-back wins over the Lakers by a combined margin of 47.
``He's going to be a huge part of our team,' coach Tyrone Corbin said. ``He's a great addition to what we're trying to do here. He's feeling a lot more comfortable with where he is in this system. I put him in a lot of bad situations tonight and put a lot of pressure on him. But we want him to get that experience now, so that we can all see how it's going to play out.'
Trailing 48-33 late in the first half, the Clippers went on a 21-5 spurt to grab a 66-62 lead in the final minute of the third. Willie Green, starting at shooting guard for the injured Chauncey Billups, put Los Angeles ahead 62-61 on a 3-pointer with 2:46 left in the quarter.
``We were a little tired, but that's no excuse for us to come out flat like we did in the first half,' Jordan said. ``But in the second half, our defense created our offense. We just played with intensity and a lot of energy, and that's what got us back in the game.'
Billups, whose 2011-12 season ended in February because of a torn left Achilles tendon that required surgery, isn't expected to return to the lineup anytime soon. Del Negro said he will require another two weeks of practices and a full-contact scrimmage before the club can get a more accurate read on his status.
``I feel good. I'm further along than anybody that I even knew with this kind of injury. So I'm very encouraged,' Billups said. ``But I don't want to dwell on when I'm coming back. When I feel ready and I feel like I can help the team, that's when I'll be back. Until then I'm still on the road to recovery. I don't want to compromise all the work that I've put into it just to hurry back. I'm going to be smart with it.'
Jamaal Tinsley started again at point guard in place of injured Mo Williams and played 22 scoreless minutes with seven assists. Williams sat out his second straight game because of a groin strain, and swingman Derrick Favors did not play because of a bruised right knee.
NOTES: Matt Barnes was called for a flagrant foul against DeMarre Carroll with 8:03 left in the second quarter, wrapping his arms around the Utah forward from behind on a fast break and keeping him in a bear hug for several seconds under the basket before they were separated. The call was changed to a routine foul after referees David Jones, Pat Fraher and Scott Twardoski took another look on the replay monitor.
The Associated Press News Service
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