The Los Angeles Clippers didn't finish their 14th consecutive victory well. They were good enough through the first three quarters that it didn't matter.
Jamal Crawford led a dominant performance by the Los Angeles reserves with 22 points in a 112-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, extending the team's franchise-record winning streak while claiming the best record in the NBA at 22-6.
"It's about getting better and better," Crawford said. "We're trying to stay locked in and focused."
Matt Barnes added 20 points — one off his season high — as the bench outscored the Clippers' starters 64-48 in moving one win ahead of second-best Oklahoma City (21-6), which lost to Miami earlier Tuesday.
"This is fool's gold," cautioned Chris Paul, who led the starters with 14 points. "You don't play for the regular season. Obviously, you want to build something."
Kosta Koufos and Jordan Hamilton scored 16 points each for Denver in the finale of a Christmas doubleheader at Staples Center. The Lakers, who will play the Nuggets on Wednesday night in Denver, beat the Knicks 100-94 in the first game.
"They're a very good running team and they're very athletic, so we wanted to just play within ourselves and play smart throughout the game," Koufos said. "I thought we established ourselves early on. We were getting some good looks, but at the same time, shots weren't going in."
Ty Lawson added 15 points for the Nuggets, who fell to 7-13 on the road, where 22 of their first 32 games are being played.
"They've got the respect of the league and they've got the attention of the league," said former Clipper Andre Miller, who had 12 points. "It's tough to come in here and get a win when the team is playing that well."
Crawford's 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter pushed the Clippers' lead to 20 points and kept the starters on the bench for the final 12 minutes. Coming into the game, their average margin of victory during the streak had been 13 points and they exceeded that when the Nuggets failed to make it close in the fourth.
Crawford scored eight points in the quarter. He leads NBA reserves in scoring and topped 20 points for the 12th time this season.
But none of the Clippers were happy about the sloppy final period, when they were outscored 24-19 and the Nuggets shot 61 percent.
"It looked like a layup drill for them," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said about Denver scoring 10 straight points. "I'm big into making sure we play the right way. It's always about the big picture and us getting better."
Blake Griffin added 13 points and Willie Green had 11 among the other leading Los Angeles starters.
Denver rallied after halftime, using a 15-6 spurt to close to 73-63, capped by Andre Iguodala's free throw after Paul received a technical foul.
The Clippers answered with three consecutive 3-pointers, including two by Green from opposite corners, for an 84-67 lead. The Nuggets ran off seven in a row to get within 10 before the Clippers regrouped with a 9-2 run, capped by Paul's 3-pointer, that kept them ahead 93-76 heading into the fourth.
"They have a confidence right now that's pretty powerful," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Clippers stretched their lead to 67-48 at halftime with 42 points in the second, their highest-scoring quarter this season. The bench got things going with a 14-10 run before Paul replaced a wild Eric Bledsoe. His presence settled down the second unit until Griffin and DeAndre Jordan eventually came back in during a 28-10 run the rest of the period that produced the Clippers' first double-digit lead. Driving dunks by Barnes and Griffin, alley-oop dunks by Griffin and Jordan, and consecutive 3-pointers by Barnes and Paul highlighted the scoring binge.
"When we are at our best our starters have a great first quarter and our bench elevates that," Griffin said.
Hamilton banked in a jumper at the buzzer to give the Nuggets a 26-25 lead after a back-and-forth opening quarter. There were nine lead changes and eight ties, with neither team leading by more than three points.
NOTES: The Clippers improved to 13-3 at home, where they haven't lost there since Nov. 26 against New Orleans. ... Denver fell to 3-3 in the first game of a back-to-back set. ... Los Angeles wore all-red uniforms, while the Nuggets were in navy. ... Paul flew in 30 family members from North Carolina to enjoy the holiday. ... It was Paul's idea to have his teammates wear ugly Christmas sweaters to the arena, and his mother procured them. "It shows we're a tight-knit group," Crawford said. Some of the Clippers declared F Matt Barnes the unofficial winner. His green-and-cream cardigan had tinsel, bows and ornaments hanging from it. ... Kanye West was part of a contingent of Kardashians in the house, including Kim and Khloe.