PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Clippers are waving goodbye to the rest of the Pacific Division.
The Clippers won their fifth consecutive game, downing the Phoenix Suns 104-96 Tuesday night.
With 20 games to play, Los Angeles is 42-20, 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Golden State Warriors and six games ahead of the fading, third-place Suns, losers of four of their past six.
The Clippers matched their longest winning streak of the season while earning their eighth victory in 10 games.
Forward Matt Barnes led the Clippers with 28 points, making 12 of 17 shots from the field.
Barnes exploded for 14 points in a 4:15 stretch just after halftime. He hit four 25-footers and a short jumper, erasing Phoenix’s hard-earned, 55-44 halftime lead and tying the score at 66.
“When the basket is that big, you want to keep getting looks,” said Barnes, who admitted being a little lost before the trade deadline but recently has been aggressive enough to take what the defense gives him.
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin, who took over late, had 22 points, six assists and five rebounds. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan added 10 points and 17 boards.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, talking about the difficulty of guarding Griffin, said, “If you try to come over with a big, they just lob over the top to Jordan.
“If you come with a guard or a wing, they kick it out and Barnes shoots it. Or Chris Paul drives it again and kicks it out. They make it very tough on you when he dominates in there.”
For the Suns, forward P.J. Tucker had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Gerald Green scored 17 points but shot just 6-for-19 from the field.
The Clippers held Suns guard Goran Dragic to 14 points. He added nine assists.
The Suns (35-25) hurt their chances by making just 11 of 19 free throws.
Danny Granger made his Clippers debut. The former Indiana Pacers forward had one rebound in four minutes.
The Suns shut down the Clippers’ offense late in the first quarter, enabling them to take off on a 16-2 run that turned an early 22-14 deficit into a 30-24 lead early in the second quarter.
Then, in the closing minutes of the first half, the Suns took off on a 13-5 run for an 11-point halftime lead. Dragic filled the highlight reel during that span, nailing a 3-pointer before stealing a pass from Barnes and taking off for a fast-break layup.
Then Barnes lit up the Suns, and the game was even.
With the Suns leading 69-68, Griffin hit a short jumper and then a turnaround banker. That propelled the Clippers on a 13-2 run for an 81-71 lead near the end of the third quarter.
The Clippers ran the lead to 90-75 before the Suns battled back one final time. Green hit two 3-pointers and a 2-pointer that bounced high, around the rim and in to cut Los Angeles’ lead to 97-94 with 2:37 left.
Griffin then hit a banker, and the Clippers coasted home.
“In the first half, it felt like (the Suns) were in a playoff game,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “In the second half, we joined them, and it turned into a really good game, especially for us.”
Griffin agreed: “For the whole team to fight through adversity was huge. I think that’s going to serve us well, especially in the playoffs.”
Leandro Barbosa, the Suns’ backup shooting guard, fractured his left hand during the first half. According to the team, he won’t need surgery, but he will be sidelined indefinitely. Barbosa has been in and out of the Suns’ rotation due to injuries since his return to the team this season. He averages 7.8 points per game.
Barbosa’s absence could create playing time for rookie Archie Goodwin.
Los Angeles guard/forward Jared Dudley came out in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a back problem. The Clippers already were down two shooting guards, Jamal Crawford (calf) and J.J. Reddick (multiple injuries). Crawford could return at any time, but Reddick might be out for an extended time.
NOTES: F Danny Granger made his Clippers debut. Granger might be a stranger to the team’s playbook, “but if you throw an offensive guy the ball, he should know how to score,” coach Doc Rivers said. … C Alex Len, the No. 5 pick in the draft, made his first start for the Suns in place of C Miles Plumlee, who has a sprained right knee. During his rookie season for the Indiana Pacers, Plumlee played 55 minutes. He has played more than 1,500 minutes for the Suns. Len scored six points in 19 minutes Tuesday. … Suns G Goran Dragic began the night shooting 51 percent from the floor, including 41 percent on 3-pointers. The only Phoenix players who went 50/40 during an entire season among players who have qualified for the league leader board were Steve Nash (six times) and Jeff Hornacek (three times).
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