Chris Paul and Blake Griffin continue to play solid team basketball, as the Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to 16 games with a victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday, 116-114.
The Clippers received 29 points from Paul, and 22 points from Griffin, while the team shot an impressive 49.4 percent from the field. Not only are the Clippers undefeated in December, they are alone at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Much of the credit for the streak may have to go to Paul. The playmaker has been key to the offense, as the club is shooting 48 percent from the field. He has averaged 9.3 assists per game, and has shot 47.2 percent from the field.
Griffin has been extremely consistent in December. The young forward has not had one game where he shot under .500 from the field, and rarely gets into foul trouble, while averaging an impressive 1.7 steals per game.
Meanwhile, the bench has over-achieved. Jamal Crawford has had bouts of inconsistency this season, but is averaging 16.4 points per game. Few reserves offer that much of a scoring spark, and Crawford seems to fit perfectly into the team's system.
Not only are the Clippers winning, but they are doing it in convincing fashion. In the 16-game span, the Clippers have won 11 games by more than 10 points.
Will the Clippers continue to play such exceptional basketball the rest of the way?
There have not been many indicators that suggest the Clippers will falter. Most teams experience a let down after a winning streak, but the Clippers appear to have the momentum in place to at least maintain their level of play. The Clippers are playing with a rather healthy roster, and will play five of their next seven games at home, and won't be facing elite teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat in that span.
Perhaps more importantly, the Clippers are gaining swagger and respect. Both those qualities may be vital for success in a city where they have consistently been overshadowed by the Lakers.
The Lakers have shown signs of life in recent weeks, but the Clippers still appear to be the favorites to win the Pacific Division with a rather comfortable nine-game lead over their local rival.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro would probably be on the hot seat if the Clippers got off to a slow start. Prior to joining L.A., Del Negro was fired from the Chicago Bulls after finishing with back-to-back 41-41 records and he entered the 2012-2013 under pressure to lead the Clippers to a top-three seed in the playoffs.
But Del Negro won't have to worry about receiving much criticism this season, as the Clippers are shattering team records, and look like legitimate contenders in the West.
In order for the Clippers to be perceived as the favorites entering the playoffs, they may need to have strong regular-season showings against teams like the Thunder, Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers defeated the Spurs twice, and have already beat the Lakers once, but lost to the Thunder in overtime.