Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Clippers closed out a grueling stretch of 20 games in 31 days with their first five-game winning streak since 2006.
There are bigger things on their horizon, though. Next up is a game at Dallas, with the defending NBA champions right behind the fourth-place Clippers in the Western Conference standings.
"It`s big because it could mean the difference between the fourth and fifth seed," said Blake Griffin, who had 24 points in the Clippers` 105-96 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Chris Paul led the way with 26 points, Randy Foye added 17 points and DeAndre Jordan had 10 rebounds for the surging Clippers, who have won six in a row at home and are a game behind the first-place Lakers in the Pacific Division, but are just 11-13 on the road.
The Clippers hadn`t won five consecutive games since opening the 2006-07 season with a 5-1 record.
"It ain`t a huge milestone," Paul said. "You`ve got to strive for more than that. Every win now is crucial. We got to expect to win. The mindset is changing and that`s a good thing."
Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 26 points, while Paul Millsap added 18, Gordon Hayward 14 and C.J. Miles 13. Utah lost its third in a row after closing within four points in the third quarter.
"Everybody was hitting shots. They are one of the most active teams in the league," Jefferson said. "Chris Paul makes everybody around him better. You could put Chris Paul on any team in the NBA and he`ll do that. He`s just that type of player."
Paul left the game with a bruised right elbow at 7:37 of the third. He was dribbling the ball as Devin Harris tried to poke it away when he winced in pain. He left the bench and returned with 11 minutes left in the fourth.
"It`s like a stinger. I just couldn`t feel my last two fingers," he said, his elbow wrapped under his shirt as he headed out after the game.
Paul finished with six assists, giving him 185 in March and breaking the franchise record of 179 for a single month set by Norm Nixon with the San Diego Clippers in 1983.
Utah came out of halftime with a 12-4 run that cut their deficit to four points. Foye got the Clippers going with a 3-pointer before Griffin scored six in a row, capped by a two-handed dunk off Foye`s alley-oop pass. Eric Bledsoe, who came in while Paul was out, scored five straight and restored their lead to 75-61.
The Clippers kept their momentum going in the fourth, leading by 17 early on Nick Young`s dunk. The Jazz got within eight on two free throws by Millsap in the midst of Paul and Griffin teaming to score 11 straight for the Clippers, who led 98-84.
"They just didn`t miss shots," Millsap said. "We had guys in their faces and they just didn`t miss."
The Jazz outscored the Clippers 12-6, including consecutive 3-pointers by Miles, to end the game.
"We fought back enough to give ourselves a chance, but it just wasn`t enough to get over the hump," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Utah closed to 57-45 at halftime after trailing by 19 points early in the second. Hayward scored the Jazz`s final six points, including a dunk, while the Clippers missed all three of their free-throw attempts in the final 1:23. Jordan had the highlight dunk of the second quarter, taking an alley-oop pass from Paul and slamming it in one-handed.
The Clippers shot 68 percent from the floor and 75 percent from 3-point range, making 6 of 8, in the first quarter. They built a 31-14 lead from the start before settling for a 38-22 advantage going into the second.
"You can`t give a team as good as they are on their home court 38 points in the first quarter," Jefferson said. "If a couple of shots could have gone in and if we could have gotten a couple more loose balls and rebounds, we wouldn`t have been in that situation. For the most part, we played pretty good D, but they were just on fire."