Hawks-Clippers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 10, 2012
The Los Angeles Clippers are still Blake Griffin's team, but the star power forward doesn't need to do all the heavy lifting on the offensive end. Center DeAndre Jordan and newcomer Jamal Crawford have been taking care of that lately. They're a big reason Los Angeles could score in triple figures in seven consecutive games for the first time in nearly two decades as the Atlanta Hawks come to town Sunday. Signed to a five-year extension in July that could be worth up to $95 million, Griffin is off to a slow start after undergoing surgery for a knee injury suffered while practicing with Team USA for the Olympics. He claims that playing with a sleeve on his right arm for the last three games because of fluid in his elbow hasn't affected him, but his numbers have dropped sharply from last season when he averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. Griffin's averages are 15.7 and 8.7, respectively, after scoring a career low-tying seven points and grabbing 10 boards in Thursday's 103-90 win at Portland. "Blake doesn't have to carry the load," coach Vinny Del Negro told the Clippers' official website. "... Obviously, he's a huge part of us and we're going to go to him when we need to, but other guys can step up." Jordan and Crawford have been among those guys, helping the Clippers (4-2) rank among the league's top-scoring teams and reach at least 100 points in all six games. They haven't done so in seven straight since a run of 12 games during the 1993-94 season. Jordan is hitting 75.0 percent of his shots this season and has 41 points with 19 rebounds in the last two games as Los Angeles has bounced back from consecutive home losses. "I don't know what kind of votes they get at the end of the season, but to me he might be our most valuable player," Chris Paul said of Jordan, owner of a career 6.1 scoring average. Crawford, named Sixth Man of the Year while with Atlanta in 2009-10, also deserves plenty of credit for the Clippers having a chance to record their best seven-game start since 2007-08. He leads NBA reserves with 21.8 points per game after scoring a team-high 25 on Thursday. Los Angeles' bench is averaging 41.8 points compared to 25.3 last season. "If we're playing against another team's bench we should be better than their bench," center Ryan Hollins said. "We kind of take that upon ourselves and do our job." Josh Smith knows he needs to do his job better if the Hawks (2-2) are going to have a successful four-game road trip. The veteran forward missed 13 of 19 shots - and two free throws with 1:05 to play - in Friday's 95-89 home loss to Miami. Smith, who missed a 104-95 win at Oklahoma City last Sunday with a sprained right ankle, did not use a knee-to-knee collision with LeBron James as an excuse. "I've got to be more efficient. I've got to be better at the free-throw line," said Smith, 2 for 10 from the foul line this season. "I apologize to all my teammates. It was just a poor effort." The new-look Hawks, though, have been getting a strong effort from point guard Jeff Teague, the team leader with 16.3 points and 7.3 assists per game. Facing Paul, also a former Wake Forest All-American, Teague averaged 15.5 points as these teams split two games in 2011-12. Paul totaled 47 points and 17 assists in those matchups, while Griffin had 48 points and 18 boards.
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