What a difference an unblemished month makes.
The white-hot Los Angeles Clippers know that all too well and look to open the new year the way they left off 2012 when they visit the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.
The Clippers have won a franchise-best 17 games in a row, last tasting defeat Nov. 26 versus New Orleans, and went a perfect 16-0 in December. Only the third team in NBA history to complete a calendar month with a record of 16-0, the Clippers registered a home-and-home sweep of the Utah Jazz with a 107-96 victory on Sunday.
Caron Butler led the way with 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting and both Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford added 19 points for Los Angeles, which shot 50 percent from the floor and sank 8-of-18 3-pointers. Butler helped the cause beyond the arc by making all six of his 3-point attempts and has made seven straight 3- pointers in his last five quarters. Former Clipper Quentin Richardson made 10 consecutive from downtown to hold the record.
Utah never got closer than four points in the last few minutes of the game and was held to 41.3 percent shooting.
"We don't talk about it, it just happens," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said of the streak. "It's a tribute to everybody. It's unreal how many different ways we've won."
Griffin was held to seven points and grabbed seven rebounds for a Clippers squad that is sixth in the NBA with 102.4 ppg and fourth in defense, allowing 92.3 ppg. The Clips are averaging 104.7 ppg during the winning streak, while opponents are posting 89.5 ppg.
Los Angeles, which owns the best record in the NBA at 25-6, is enjoying the longest winning streak in the league since the Boston Celtics reeled off 19 in a row from Nov. 15-Dec. 23, 2008. The Clippers will play two in a row on the road against Denver and Golden State, and are riding a seven-game road winning streak. L.A. is 10-3 as the guest and 5-4 all-time on New Year's Day.
The Clippers' bench has played a major role this season and is first in the NBA with 42.2 ppg. Crawford has a lot to do with that success and the former Sixth Man of the Year is second on the team with 16.5 ppg.
Denver certainly won't be a pushover Tuesday night, having won seven in a row at home. The Nuggets are 9-1 in the Rocky Mountains this season and will play three straight and 15 of 18 games as the host.
The Nuggets are glad to be home for some time after playing 22 of their first 32 games on the road, and will try to get back in the win column following an 81-72 decision at Memphis on Saturday. JaVale McGee, Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala had 12 points apiece for Denver, which had won two straight and six of its previous eight games.
Memphis shot 60 percent in the fourth quarter and had a 28-15 advantage in the final stanza. Denver turned the ball over 17 times, leading to 30 Memphis points. Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, coming off a career-best 39-point performance the night before at Dallas, scored just seven points against the Grizzlies.
"We just ran out of gas, and ran out of bodies," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We didn't have anybody really playing a great game. We worked them as hard as we could. The fight was good, but then with the fourth quarter and turnovers, it just broke our hearts."
Denver is eighth in the NBA with 101.9 ppg and sustained a 112-100 road loss against the Clippers on Christmas Day. Crawford led the Clippers in that one with a game-high 22 points. The Clippers have won three straight and six of the past seven overall meetings with the Nuggets, but are only 3-11 in the last 14 matchups as the visitor in this series.