LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Clippers can't even enjoy a victory anymore because of the way injuries have torpedoed their season from start to finish.
They beat the Denver Nuggets 100-94 on Saturday night, but the joy was tempered considerably by the news that leading scorer Eric Gordon is sidelined indefinitely.
It was just his second game back in the lineup after missing the previous 18 with a sprained right wrist that had a small fracture in it. On Wednesday, he scored 24 points in a 106-103 victory that snapped Los Angeles' five-game losing streak.
``I would say the pain level isn't as bad as it was, but it's re-aggravated and it's going to take some time,' Gordon said. ``The big relief is that it's not broken. With this type of injury, I really didn't know what kind of timetable there would be when I first heard about it and how long it would take to get back. All I could do was see what kind of pain tolerance I could deal with and be able to play.'
Rookie Blake Griffin had 18 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high nine assists. Rookie guard Eric Bledsoe scored 15 of his career-high 20 points in the fourth quarter and had seven steals for the Clippers, who have won their first two games this month - equaling their victory total for February, when they were 2-12.
``I've got good instincts as a defensive player, especially as a point guard,' Bledsoe said. ``I kind of know when to go for steals, but sometimes I get beat trying to go for the steal. I just try to make big plays.'
Gordon left with 5:08 remaining in the second quarter after he was fouled by Timofey Mozgov on an attempted driving layup with the Clippers leading 43-29 and crashed to the floor.
The third-year shooting guard wasn't able to make his free throws, which automatically made him ineligible for the rest of the game, and he was taken for X-rays that showed no structural damage. Gordon, who helped the U.S. national team won the gold medal at the world championship in Turkey last summer, entered the game averaging 24.1 points and 4.5 assists.
``You never want to see one of your teammates go down, but if he does, you have to be ready. And Bledsoe's performance tonight was unbelievable,' teammate Ryan Gomes said. ``He hit a lot of big shots for us. That's what he can do. In one sense, he reminds me of Rajon Rondo a little bit with the long arms and how athletic he is and the way he can change a game on the defensive end.'
Nene led Denver with 25 points and tied a season high with 14 rebounds. Kenyon Martin had 11 points before fouling out with 10.6 seconds remaining. The Nuggets are three games behind Oklahoma City for first place in the division.
``I think it was an optimistic attitude from the very beginning of the season,' Karl said. ``And then the `Melodrama' was thrown in on it. But when you start the season knowing that two of your top big guys are going to miss 30-35 games, you're just kind of trying to tread water. And we did that well. We're not out of the woods yet, but we are in a good place.'
The Nuggets are 5-2 since trading Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks in a multiplayer trade that brought them Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari. Mozgov faced the Clippers at Staples Center for the first time since Nov. 20, when Griffin used the rookie center's head to balance himself with one hand as he dunked with the other during a 124-115 loss to the Knicks.
The Clippers entered the fourth quarter with a six-point lead and increased it to 78-75 when Bledsoe hit a layup, then fed rookie Al-Farouq Aminu for an alley-oop dunk and drained a 3-pointer with 11:07 to play. Denver went on a 14-2 run capped by a 16-footer from Nene that brought the Nuggets within 80-79 with 7:32 remaining. But the Clippers stayed in front the rest of the way.
For a change, Griffin found himself on the passing end of an alley-oop dunk by Jordan that gave Los Angeles a 91-82 cushion with 3:40 left, and the Clippers sealed the victory with 3-pointers by Bledsoe and Mo Williams in the final 2:40.
Notes: Denver committed 10 turnovers during the first three quarters - none of which were converted into points by the Clippers. ... Gallinari missed his fourth straight game after breaking the big toe on his left foot at Portland. Arron Afflalo left with 1:36 left in the first half because of a left hamstring strain. ... Karl, who missed considerable time last season while battling throat and neck cancer, intimated before the game that his negotiations for a contract extension are winding down. His intention is to coach three more seasons. ``I'm very optimistic. I think a lot of things have been settled,' Karl said. ``There are some I's to be dotted and some T's to be crossed, so I'm very hopeful that something will get done soon. They've been very fair and very up front, and we've had a good exchange about on the future with me being in Denver.'
The Associated Press News Service
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