LOS ANGELES (AP) – Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had a little business to take care of before jetting off to the All-Star game. They helped deliver a morale-boosting victory to the Los Angeles Clippers, who at 20-11 are off to their best start since 1974-75.
Paul scored a season-high 36 points and Griffin added 27 in a 103-95 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night that snapped a two-game skid in their final game before the break.
The teams had split their first two meetings, with the Nuggets winning 112-91 nearly three weeks ago.
“They pretty much embarrassed us on national TV last time so it was good to get this win and get our confidence going into the break,” Paul said.
Paul and Griffin are headed to the game as starters in Orlando. They’ll return to a team that is No. 3 in the West and atop the Pacific Division to open the second half of the lockout-shortened season.
“That’s when it gets serious, after the break,” Paul said. “Definitely a lot of room for improvement. Obviously we haven’t peaked yet and we can keep getting better.”
Griffin had 12 rebounds and DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and 16 boards as the Clippers improved to 12-4 at home.
“We feel pretty good,” Griffins said. “Obviously we lost some ones that we didn’t want to and we shouldn’t have, but that’s going to happen. We got to keep plugging.”
Arron Afflalo scored 20 points and rookie Jordan Hamilton added a season-high 18 points for the injury-riddled Nuggets, who lost their fifth in a row on the road. They played without Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Nene and Rudy Fernandez.
The teams played it close throughout with 23 lead changes and 16 ties.
Paul scored 17 straight points over the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth that extended the Clippers’ lead to 85-79.
“The guy that beat us was Chris Paul. He had incredible control of the game,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We had a lot of young guys out there, and he found a lot of easy shots and made them. He played spectacular. The last couple of games we got beat by (Kevin) Durant and Paul, and those are two guys who know how to do that.”
The Nuggets answered with seven in a row, including three by Al Harrington, to take a 91-89 lead. Paul was 11 of 12 from the line and had nine assists.
From there, the Clippers outscored Denver 14-4 to end the game. Griffin had six points, making four straight free throws, while the Nuggets couldn’t hit from outside. Harrington airballed a 3-pointer and missed another one on the ensuing possession. He finished with 11 points.
“We missed shots that we normally make,” Harrington said. “I guess I’m in a little bit of a shooting slump, but the only way you can get through that is to be aggressive so I’m going to continue to do that.”
Denver didn’t make a field goal over the final 7:27.
“We had a game plan for (Paul), but we didn’t execute it as well as we would have liked or as well as we did the last time we played them,” Harrington said. “He just got wiggle room and made a lot of big shots. He moves so slow, he almost lulls you to sleep. We messed up a little bit on our coverages and gave him enough space to get shots off. He wasn’t really getting to the basket that much, but he was making his mid-range shots.”
Paul scored the Clippers’ final 12 points of the third, when they led 80-79. Denver led by five midway through the period before Griffin and Paul combined to score seven in a row and briefly put the Clippers ahead by two.
The Nuggets led 54-52 at the break, with neither team leading by more than five points in the first half. Hamilton scored 13 points, missing just two of his six field goal attempts, for the Nuggets. Paul scored all of his 13 points in the second quarter for the Clippers.
Notes: Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said F Kenyon Martin‘s back has been bothering him and he got hit in the ribs in the game. … Nuggets F-C Nene missed his sixth straight game with a strained left calf. … Griffin and Paul addressed the fans before the game, with Griffin thanking them for their support during the first half of the season. “We’re going to go down to Orlando and try to make you guys proud,” Paul added.
By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
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