LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Clippers' playoff chances are looking stronger and stronger. The Phoenix Suns' situation is becoming bleaker with every loss.
Blake Griffin threw down three dunks in a 1:40 span late in the fourth quarter and had 27 points and 14 rebounds in the Clippers' 103-86 victory over the Suns on Wednesday night.
It was less than a week ago that the Clips returned from an 0-3 trip that put coach Vinny Del Negro on the hot seat. But he received a vote of confidence from owner Donald Sterling, and the team has suddenly taken off in the right direction.
``Winning is the best medicine,' Griffin said. ``We lost three games in a row before we came home, and the world was about to fall apart for us. But we're doing a better job of not letting teams fight back into it and making it harder on ourselves - at least we have the last three games. We're trying to finish out games and go to the playoffs on the right foot.'
Chris Paul had 15 points and 15 assists to help the Clippers move two games behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division. They have won five straight at home since their 91-87 loss to the Suns on March 15. The Clippers and Suns are among nine teams separated by six games in the race for the final five Western Conference playoff spots.
``Right now we control our own destiny,' Paul said. ``As long as we continue to win games, we don't have to keep looking over our shoulders seeing what other teams are doing. We're playing with more of a sense of urgency. I don't know why it's starting to come now, but we're starting to believe in each other.
``There's a lot of season left. Even though there's only 16 games to go, a lot can happen, so we're just going to keep trying to stay the course.'
Marcin Gortat led Phoenix with 23 points and seven rebounds. Steve Nash had 15 assists, but only one point - on a free throw that came after a technical foul against Bobby Simmons with 4:14 to play.
``We didn't play well,' said Nash, 0 for 4 from the field with four turnovers. ``We didn't make shots and we gave up offensive rebounds (13). We have 15 games left and we have to regroup and find a way to win games as soon as possible. We have to be optimistic. We're lucky to still be in this position. We have overachieved thus far, but we are in a position to crawl back into the playoffs and prove everybody wrong.'
In the 18 games Paul and Nash have played head-to-head, their teams have each won nine times.
``They're two of the elite point guards,' Griffin said. ``Obviously, Steve is older and in his last years, or whatever, and CP's in his prime right now and it's extremely fun to watch him. But it's also fun to see how good Steve Nash still is at his age and how much he helps his team.'
Phoenix's Grant Hill missed his second straight game because of inflammation in his right knee. Shannon Brown, who scored a career-high 32 points Tuesday night in a home loss to San Antonio while starting in Hill's place, had 10 points in his 300th NBA game and 20th career start.
Los Angeles closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run to take a 74-64 lead. Phoenix got as close as 81-74 on Channing Frye's 18-footer, capping a 6-0 spurt while Griffin was taking a breather.
But the Suns made only one field goal over the next 5:45. Griffin returned to the floor with 6:19 remaining, and the Clippers responded with a 13-5 run capped by his back-to-back dunks 28 seconds apart. The second one came off Griffin's steal of Nash's turnover and made it 96-70.
``Luckily, they missed a lot of shots - because they had a lot of great looks. But we were consistent with our effort,' Paul said. ``We were up eight or nine at one point and it could have easily went to five or four. But we pushed it to 15 and put them away. The biggest difference is that we were getting stops. We got out in transition, and Blake's energy was contagious.'
Notes: The Clippers, who lost the two previous meetings with the Suns this season by a combined margin of seven points, won for only the second time in their last 15 games against them. The season series concludes April 19 in Arizona. ... Phoenix rookie F Markieff Morris didn't play because of the flu. ... Griffin has scored 686 points in the paint this season, second only to Dwight Howard's 782 for Orlando. ... The Suns, two games out of a playoff spot, haven't gone consecutive years without a postseason berth since a three-year stretch from 1986-88. ... Nash is 122 assists away from surpassing Oscar Robertson for fifth place on the NBA career list, and would have to average 8.1 in the Suns' next 15 games to do it before the end of the regular season. He has reached double digits in 32 of his 47 games so far.
The Associated Press News Service
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