LOS ANGELES (AP) – Matt Barnes is back playing with the Los Angeles Clippers, and it looked as though he’d never been away.
Wearing goggles to protect his surgically repaired left eye, Barnes contributed 13 points off the bench, including three 3-pointers to help the Clippers win their fourth straight, 112-91 over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.
“Love having him back,” said Blake Griffin, who had 24 points and 16 rebounds. “He’s a guy who has a positive impact even if he doesn’t score a basket.”
Barnes played for the first time since undergoing three procedures to repair a torn retina in his eye. He got hurt on Nov. 18 when Memphis’ Zach Randolph inadvertently hit Barnes in the eye.
“I feel good,” he said, adding that he doesn’t like the goggles. “I got elbowed and the goggles gave me a bruise. I don’t see myself wearing them long.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Barnes, “He looked good. He just gives us something extra – the toughness, the cutting, the basketball IQ. His shot looked good.”
Jamal Crawford scored 27 points, hitting six 3-pointers as the Clippers led all the way. Chris Paul added 10 points and 11 assists. DeAndre Jordan had 12 rebounds.
“Whenever we set the tone in the first quarter it kind of carries us,” Crawford said. “Chris and those guys threw some good passes. I had the easy part shooting the ball.”
Wilson Chandler scored all of his 19 points in the first half and Timofey Mozgov had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost their third straight. Ty Lawson added 13 points as Denver was held to 35 percent shooting.
“We just got thoroughly outplayed by a better team. They pretty much did what they wanted to do to us on the boards. Inside, outside, and on the break, our energy was bad,” Nuggets coach and former Lakers star Brian Shaw said. “We’re not in a good place right now. We’ve got to do some soul searching and really get back to the basics if we want to right the ship.”
Nuggets starter Kenneth Faried rolled his left ankle at 8:45 of the first quarter and didn’t return.
The Clippers made 13 3-pointers, improving to 21-2 since the start of last season when they make at least 11. They hit five 3s in the third, including three by Crawford, who had 11 points in the quarter.
Griffin went coast-to-coast for a dunk in the third, when Los Angeles stretched its lead to 79-60.
“That’s a tough team,” Chandler said. “You’ve got to try to take something away on the fast break, but they’ve got the layups, they’ve got the lobs or they’ve got the open man for the 3, so it’s kind of tough.”
Grifffin and the other starters got some rest to start the fourth before he, Crawford, Paul and Jared Dudley returned midway through. Griffin made four straight free throws and Crawford scored to restore the Clippers’ lead to 20 points with under five minutes to go.
Griffin provided two highlights in the second. He dribbled the length of the court, drawing oohs from the crowd as he went behind his back three times before doing a 360-degree spin and hitting a layup. It didn’t count, though, when Lawson was called for a foul. Griffin made 1 of 2 free throws to give the Clippers their largest lead of the half, 44-27.
“I don’t even know what I was doing,” Griffin said, smiling.
Barnes missed and Griffin flew in and slammed the ball down for the one-handed putback that kept the Clippers ahead by 11.
Darren Collison got in on the act, too. Barnes tipped the ball as the Nuggets inbounded and Collison tossed up a 22-foot desperation heave that went in at the buzzer, keeping the Clippers ahead 56-43 at halftime. Collison scored 13 points.
NOTES: Nuggets F Jordan Hamilton returned after serving a one-game suspension for throwing a punch in Tuesday’s loss to Oklahoma City. … Clippers G J.J. Redick is expected to get the cast off his right hand early next week. He’s recovering from a broken hand and torn ligaments in his wrist. … The Nuggets fell to 1-4 in the second half of a back-to-back set. They were beaten by Phoenix on Friday.
By Beth Harris, AP Sports Writer
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