LOS ANGELES -- "It's always a test when you play the Spurs."
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro uttered those words before his team failed that test -- resoundingly -- losing 116-90 to San Antonio on Thursday night at Staples Center.
It's the Clippers' largest margin of defeat this season.
The Clippers and Spurs traded baskets early, with San Antonio making their first six from the field and the Clippers hitting 7 of 8.
While San Antonio barely slowed down, the Clippers slammed on the brakes.
The Spurs, owners of the best record in the NBA (44-12), shot over 60 percent from the field in the first and third quarters and 58.8 percent in the second.
The Clippers, though, couldn't crack 40 percent in the second or third quarters, as San Antonio's lead ballooned more than 30 points.
Chris Paul, the All-Star Game MVP on Sunday, struggled in 27 minutes, scoring only four points to go with three assists.
His fellow All-Star in Houston, the Spurs' Tony Parker, looked unguardable, hitting 12 of 16 for 31 points to go with seven assists.
Matt Barnes led the Clippers with 18 points and Blake Griffin added 17.
The Clippers hold a 2-1 advantage over the Spurs this season, with the teams meeting for the final time in the regular season on March 29 in San Antonio.
Billups adds dimension
Finally, the Clippers have Chauncey Billups back in the starting lineup, where he can play with Paul to give the Clippers a solid, reliable backcourt.
But the solid, reliable backcourt hasn't played together much.
In more than a season-and-a-half, Billups and Paul have only played together 23 times.
"Chris and I haven't played a long, long time together, but you're talking about two guys who think the game the same way," Billups said.
That mental edge makes all the difference, Billups said.
"It really doesn't matter how long we've been playing together." he said. "We're always thinking on the same page. We're always a couple steps ahead of most players, to be honest.
"It looks like maybe we've been playing together for a long time because of that."
With Billups back in the lineup, teams have had to adjust the way they defend the Clippers, opening things on the inside and on the the perimeter.
"He's such a good shooter and has such a high I.Q., it's easy for everybody," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. "It's like two point guards on the court with him and Chris."
Billups said he's been feeling better as of late, with issues like the peroneal tendonitis and the stiff back almost completely behind him.
"It's always good to get a break, no matter what," he said. "I enjoyed it, but I didn't feel like I absolutely needed it."
Physically and mentally, the Clippers have benefitted from having Billups back. Prior to Thursday's game with the Spurs, the Clippers were 6-1 in games he played.
And with him on the court, the team has another veteran to help the Clippers as they head into the final stretch of the season.
"Every time he speaks, it comes from a safe place," Crawford said. "You don't feel like he's telling you something for the benefit of him; it's always for the benefit of the team.
"It's always about the team."
Clippers don't deal
Like most of the NBA, the Clippers decided not to make a trade before Thursday's noon deadline.
"There was no trade to be made," Del Negro said. "There was nothing there."
The Clippers were linked to Boston's Kevin Garnett and Utah's Paul Milsap in the build-up to the deadline.
There was speculation that Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan could be involved in deals for Garnett and Milsap.
"Everyone is like a family," Crawford said. "It'd had been tough to see anyone go."
After suffering a conjunctival abrasion of the left eye (scratch) last week against the Lakers, Odom was cleared to play without eye protection Thursday against the Spurs. ...First-year Clipper season-ticket holder Hagop Blikian of Los Angeles made a half-court shot in the third quarter to win a new Dodge Dart.
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