LOS ANGELES - No one is rushing to anoint the Los Angeles Clippers, who at 22-6 own the NBA's best record. They're not exactly impressed with themselves, either - despite a franchise-record 14-game winning streak.
"It is still early in the season, and we have a lot to prove to the rest of the league," Matt Barnes said after he helped the Clippers' reserves outscore their starters in a 112-100 victory Tuesday night over the Denver Nuggets.
No less an authority than Kobe Bryant is complimentary.
"They're playing extremely well," Bryant said after leading the host Lakers to their fifth straight win, 100-94 over the New York Knicks in the first game of a Christmas doubleheader at the Staples Center. "They're coming at you in waves and waves."
The Clippers have taken advantage of a soft stretch in their schedule to win a franchise-record 14 in a row, although they have wins over some of the elite teams, including the Lakers, defending champion Miami, Memphis, and two wins over San Antonio.
"This is fool's gold," cautioned Clippers all-star point guard Chris Paul, who led the starters with 14 points against the Nuggets. "You don't play for the regular season. Obviously, you want to build something."
The Clippers have clearly figured things out.
Jamal Crawford led their reserves with 22 points, and Barnes added 20 as the bench outscored the starters by 64-48 in moving one win ahead of second-best Oklahoma City (21-6).
Crawford's three-pointer to open the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 20 and kept the Clippers' starters on the bench for the final 12 minutes.
"They have a confidence right now that's pretty powerful," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
"When we are at our best, our starters have a great first quarter and our bench elevates that," said Clippers all-star forward Blake Griffin.