LOS ANGELES, Calif. - After the Los Angeles Clippers set a record for the longest winning streak in franchise history, Chris Paul was thinking about Ron Harper, Corey Maggette and other former players who endured all that losing.
Paul had 24 points and 13 assists to help the Clippers, for decades synonymous with long losing streaks, break a 38-year-old club mark with their 12th consecutive victory Friday night, 97-85 over the Sacramento Kings.
"Most of those guys have been here through tougher times," Paul said. "I know Ron Harper really well. He's a good friend of mine, and he's excited for us. We just played against Corey Maggette, and he was excited to see how it is now. So it's been exciting for me in the short amount of time I've been here, especially knowing some of the people who have been with the team for 25 or 30 years and the season-ticket holders. But we can't be satisfied. We've got to keep it going."
The previous record was set by the Buffalo Braves during the 1974-75 season, when current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was 8 years old. The head coach back then was Jack Ramsay, whose formidable roster included Bob McAdoo, Garfield Heard, Randy Smith, Jim McMillian, Jack Marin and Bob Weiss.
That team won 49 games — still a record for a beleaguered organization that has called three different cities home, wasted first-round draft picks on Benoit Benjamin, Terry Dehere, Michael Olowokandi and Darius Miles, and was labeled "the worst franchise in sports history" by Sports Illustrated in an April 17, 2000, cover story.
Blake Griffin had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers, who have had 20 double-digit losing streaks since their 11-game winning streak in Buffalo — including a dozen of 12 or more. They lost their first 16 in 1994-95, their first 17 of the lockout-shortened 1988-89 season, and the final 14 in 1986-87. The club record for consecutive defeats is 19, set in 1981-82 and equaled in 1988-89.
But those days are history thanks to the arrival of Griffin, the blockbuster trade that brought Paul from the New Orleans Hornets last December, and a bench that is arguably the deepest in the NBA. The Clippers, who have the league's longest active winning streak, also own the NBA's second-best record at 20-6 and trail Oklahoma City by just one game.
"You have to have players. You have to have talent. You have to have guys believing in what you're doing, and finding ways to win and being consistent," Del Negro said. "I think the guys are learning and understanding what it takes to play at a high level consistently. It's a good thing to have a target on your back, but that also brings a responsibility to play at a high level as often as possible.
This is the earliest the Clippers' franchise has ever reached the 20-win mark, and only the sixth time they did it with a winning record — including a 20-11 start last season. The previous club record in that department also was set in 1974-75, when the Braves started out 20-8. Just four seasons ago the Clips finished 19-63 under Mike Dunleavy.
"I remember the year I got drafted. The season before that they had only 19 wins. So what we've accomplished so far is great," Griffin said. "But the best thing about it for me is being a part of something that's much bigger than Chris or I. It takes everybody from top to bottom — the GM, the coaching staff, the players, everybody. And from Day 1 since I've been here, everybody's been serious about changing."
Los Angeles beat Sacramento for the fifth straight time — including all three meetings last season. The Clippers haven't lost to anyone since Nov. 26 at Staples Center, when New Orleans beat them 105-98 and held Griffin to four points and one field goal — both career lows.
Reserve guard Jimmer Fredette had 16 points for Sacramento, which is 1-11 on the road. DeMarcus Cousins was benched for the entire second half by coach Keith Smart, who ordered him to remain in the locker room after he scored nine points in 20 minutes.
Neither went into detail.
"I won't share that right now, but it's just a conduct issue," Smart said. "We're trying to set a standard here, and when guys move below that standard, things are going to take place. We'll just move on to the next game and I'll make some decisions from there."
Cousins was contrite after the game.
"What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. But I was wrong. I was wrong," Cousins said. "I'm a player that definitely wants to win every night, and I'm an emotional player. That's never going to change. But I shouldn't have responded back. Something was said, and I just should have stayed quiet. Is it a humbling thing? Yeah, I will say that. I mean, I messed up and I apologize to my teammates for responding the way I did and I'll move on from it."
The Kings, who had their highest-scoring game of the season Wednesday night in a 131-127 home win against Golden State, have dropped six of seven. Tyreke Evans missed his third straight game and eighth in the last 12 because of a sore left knee. He also was sidelined for the Kings' 116-81 loss at Los Angeles on Dec. 1, when the Clippers posted their largest margin of victory since the franchise left Buffalo.
Caron Butler's 3-pointer gave Los Angeles its biggest lead, 58-41, with 10:05 left in the third quarter. The Kings narrowed the gap to 63-57 with a 16-5 run capped by Fredette's 3-pointer with 4:25 left in the quarter, but that was as close as they got.
Paul helped put the game away with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes.
NOTES: The teams the Clippers have beaten during this streak have a combined winning percentage of .401 (116-173). The Kings (8-18) are the only team they have faced twice in that stretch. ... The Clippers are at Phoenix on Saturday night, trying to break a franchise-record road winning streak of five — by those same '74-75 Buffalo Braves. ... The Los Angeles Lakers, who share Staples Center with the Clippers, haven't won 12 or more games in a row during one season since 1999-00, when they had streaks of 16 and 19. ... Los Angeles is 17-0 when leading after three quarters and 15-0 when holding an opponent under 43 per cent shooting. The Kings shot 41.8 per cent. ... Fredette missed a free throw with 3:48 remaining, ending his streak at 33 in a row.