Trail Blazers-Clippers Preview
By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers didn't have too much trouble during Chris Paul's initial absence with a bruised right kneecap. It's been a different story this week.
It's unknown when the All-Star point guard will return, and the Clippers will try to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss Sunday night as they finish a home-and-home set with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Los Angeles (32-13) swept a three-game road trip earlier this month despite Paul's absence, but the club hasn't won since he aggravated his injury in a loss at Golden State on Monday.
The Clippers managed to erase a 14-point deficit Saturday in Portland, but then they blew a nine-point lead in the final 2:30 of a 101-100 defeat.
"Tough pill to swallow," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We had an opportunity to steal this one and we couldn't convert down the stretch."
Los Angeles missed its final five shots, including two from former Blazers guard Jamal Crawford in the final 17 seconds. His last attempt, a 19-foot jumper, came with 0.9 seconds left.
"I'll take that shot 10 out of 10 and I'll make it nine out of 10," Crawford said.
Crawford finished with 19 points and has averaged 19.5 during his team's losing streak. Blake Griffin had 24 points, a career high-tying 10 assists and eight rebounds despite dealing with a sore left ankle.
Portland's Nicolas Batum, meanwhile, recorded his second triple-double in three games Saturday with 20 points, a career-best 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Rookie point guard Damian Lillard also scored 20 points.
Their efforts helped the Blazers (22-21) snap a three-game skid in the series and record a second consecutive win following a six-game losing streak.
"It's a better taste when you win the game," said Batum, who had his other triple-double in a loss to Washington on Monday. "I can't promise a triple-double every week, but I try to do something and help the team to win every game."
Batum had a team-best 23 points against the Clippers on Nov. 8, but Crawford, Paul and DeAndre Jordan each topped 20 in Los Angeles' 103-90 win. Griffin was held to seven points in that game, but he was one of three Clippers players with 20 in the most recent home matchup with Portland, a 98-97 victory March 30.
Paul also had 20, including the go-ahead layup with five seconds left. His absence would figure to make it much tougher for Los Angeles to avoid losing five in a row for the first time since Feb. 22-28, 2011.
The Clippers are also in danger of their first back-to-back home defeats since Nov. 3 and 5.
They'll want to be wary of J.J. Hickson, who has totaled 57 points on 25-of-37 shooting (67.6 percent) in his last two road games against the Clippers. Blazers scoring leader and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, meanwhile, has just 26 points on 38.7 percent shooting (12 of 31) in the two matchups this season.
Griffin has double-doubles in eight of his nine career games against Portland.
Updated January 27, 2013