Blake Griffin cant take it in the February 2012 Red Bulletin Patrick Hoelck/Red Bulletin Magazine

The Los Angeles Clippers recently finished their annual grueling Grammy road trip and RedBullUSA.com was there. We sent Brian Kamenetzky to the final three stops in Miami, New York and Philadelphia. He came back with major jet lag and the following story:

The Los Angeles Clippers landed in Miami Thursday too battered, bruised and weary to fully appreciate the gorgeous skies and perfect temperatures greeting their arrival. Every year as January comes to a close, L.A.'s two NBA squads are tossed out of the Staples Center to make way for the Taylor Swift cuteness/Nicky Minaj weirdness tent-poling the Grammy Awards circus.

For the Clippers, temporary eviction means an odyssey spanning two weeks and eight cities, eventually covering around 7,564 miles. Enough to fly from L.A. to Sydney, with a few odometer clicks left over.

Miami was stop number six on the tour, and all the sunshine on South Beach couldn't put a happy spin on the previous five. The Clippers started the trip short All-Star and MVP candidate Chris Paul (knee) and backcourt mate Chauncey Billups (tendinitis in his foot), and after scraping out an ugly 96-90 win over a bad Minnesota Timberwolves squad, the wheels started spinning off the wagon.

First, a 25-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Then a heartbreaker against the Celtics in which the Clips overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit, only to lose by two.

In Washington, they learned during the pre-game layup line that Blake Griffin would join Paul and Billups on the sidelines with a bum left hamstring. Griffin had played 197 straight games but was no match for the road trip's mounting bad voodoo. They lost by six to the Wizards.

"I was looking around our huddle while coach was talking and thinking, ‘This is unreal! How did they pull it off? How did they do this, as far as having everybody buy in, and the cap, and how everything works?' It's unbelievable." -- Jamal Crawford

Two nights later in Orlando, despite losing their second leading scorer Jamal Crawford (who had already broken his nose in Toronto) to a shoulder injury and dressing only nine healthy players, the Clippers scraped out a win. It stopped L.A.'s mini-slide down the standings behind Western Conference leaders San Antonio and Oklahoma City, but even that bit of happiness was undercut with the news that head trainer Jasen Powell had ruptured his Achilles tendon conducting player workouts on the Amway Center floor.

Even the flippin' trainer went down. Welcome to NBA road trip hell.

*****

Ninety minutes before Friday night's tip against the Heat, the media is allowed into the visiting locker room at American Airlines Arena. Hip-hop blares from a portable iPod speaker on a table in the center of the room.

I ask Crawford who plays DJ.

"Pandora," he says. "Somebody picks who is going to be DJ each day, and then they put on their favorite artist and Pandora just spins it."

It appears to be Billups' turn, because he stops at the table to adjust the tunes. Don't expect any music-centered tension, either. This team has no Lutz demanding Blimpie for lunch.

"We all like the same music," Crawford says.

The mood is good. Reserve forward Ronny Turiaf, who played last season with the Heat, will be honored and awarded his championship ring before the game. Backup point guard Eric Bledsoe was named a participant in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend. Best of all, at practice the day before, the Clippers had Paul, Billups, Griffin, and Crawford back on the floor. With veteran forward Grant Hill already back in the fold after battling injury all year, it meant the Clippers had, for the first time all year, all 14 players on the roster available to play.

"Yeah, I took that tech. I'll take that one. I don't know. I was like, ‘I got fouled, I'll take a tech.’ But it is what it is. I thought it was -- whatever." -- Chris Paul

It only took 51 games.

At full strength, the Clippers believe themselves to be the deepest team in the NBA, and the numbers back them up. All year long, their bench has dominated the opposition. And that was with guys like Hill and Billups almost exclusively in street clothes.

Neither played a minute during the LAC's 17-game win streak earlier this season.

"I was looking around our huddle (Thursday at practice) while coach was talking and thinking, ‘This is unreal! How did they pull it off?’" Crawford said, smiling as he prepared for the Heat. "How did they do this, as far as having everybody buy in, and the cap, and how everything works? It's unbelievable."

For Billups, who rehabbed a torn left Achilles tendon all summer only to play 59 minutes over three games before the tendinitis put him right back on the shelf, getting back in the lineup meant an opportunity to fully play the leadership role so integral to the 15-year vet's job description.

"It's tough, because even if we go through some lulls when I'm out there, I'm out there," he says. "It's like, I'm with the guys. I'm with you. I can try to help, and try to lead, and try to talk guys out of that. When I'm not, and I'm sitting over there in a suit, it's kind of a helpless situation. You feel kind of helpless. There's not much you can do."

"I could tell [LeBron] was feeling it, and that's one guy you don't want feeling it." -- Chauncey Billups

Plus, he was out of suits.

"Eight game trip, I packed like four or five," he says. "I ran out of clothes."

The key returnee, though, was Paul. He's the engine moving the Clippers, who, via 82Games.com, score nearly 10 more points for every 100 possessions while he's on the floor. With him, they've been as successful as any team in the NBA. Without him, they're 6-6.

So more than a week into the trip, things were finally looking up. Still, it wasn't all sunshine and moon pies in Miami. The defending champs may have had their share of lulls on the road, but at home the Heat have only lost three games all year.

Friday, both Chris Bosh and Ray Allen were out with the flu, but it didn't matter because LeBron James is currently a near-perfect basketball machine. He came into the game shooting an absurd 66.1 percent in four February games, including 5-of-11 from three-point range. Against the Clippers, he hit his first six and with pinpoint passing set up teammates for a seemingly endless barrage of shots from downtown.

On the night, Miami hit 15-of-27 triples, a 55.6 percent clip. James finished with 30 points on only 11 shots, even while sitting the entire fourth quarter.

"I could tell he was feeling it," Billups said, "and that's one guy you don't want feeling it."

"[I[n these last two years, you have to look at such a bigger picture, whether it's home court advantage or figuring things out early. Or when we play a team two times in a row, or close to two times in a row, being able to figure things out and change on the fly.” -- Blake Griffin

Meanwhile, Paul never got going, picking up two fouls in the first 4:25 and playing only 20 minutes on the night. He finished with three points, two assists, and a third quarter technical foul picked up trying to contest a floor-length pass from Dwyane Wade to James. Like a bird smacking against a window, Paul bounced off LBJ and into the stanchion. The fiercely competitive Paul, frustrated already by the thorough beatdown his team was getting, yapped at the officials until he picked up the T.

"Yeah, I took that tech. I'll take that one. I don't know. I was like, ‘I got fouled, I'll take a tech.’ But it is what it is. I thought it was -- whatever," he said, ending his thought before he said anything that could potentially bring a fine from the league.

The game out of hand, CP3 was on the bench for the final 16-plus minutes of what became a 22-point blowout loss.

Not exactly the triumphant return to the lineup Paul and his teammates hoped for.

*****

Having narrowly missed being stuck in Miami ("stuck" being a relative term) thanks to Nemo's snow-dumping wrath, the Clippers arrived in New York Saturday afternoon. The next day, they were ready to be the big show. Not just on the stage of Madison Square Garden -- again the Mecca of Basketball now that the Knicks don't suck anymore -- but for a nationally-televised audience on ABC, the first time the Clippers had been featured in that Sunday slot since … well, nobody I asked could remember, exactly.

"It's tough, because even if we go through some lulls when I'm out there, I'm out there. When I'm not, and I'm sitting over there in a suit, it's kind of a helpless situation. You feel kind of helpless. There's not much you can do." -- Billups

The iPod again pumped out loud hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Wale, J. Cole, and more.

The silver lining from Friday's loss? Nobody got hurt, meaning once again, coach Vinny Del Negro would have a full roster at his disposal.

This time, things went according to plan.

Paul was money from the jump. Matched up against New York's designated defensive stopper Iman Shumpert, he racked up nine points on four shots in the first quarter, plus two assists and a steal. By halftime, he was up to 16/5, with a second swipe. As a team, the Clippers operated as designed, particularly in the fourth quarter. Paul and Griffin beat down the Knicks with a stream of 1-4 pick and roll sets, with Griffin hitting a pair of jumpers off the pop, and gaining the Clips a key extra possession with an offensive rebound. New York couldn't keep Paul out of the lane.

When he wasn't handling the ball, Billups was, at one point setting up Paul for two of his seven fourth-quarter points.

Meanwhile, L.A.'s depth was key. Crawford had 11 points in the fourth, and 27 overall. Backup point guard Eric Bledsoe hit all six of his shots. Hill, pressed into service after Caron Butler's back stiffened up in the first half, helped lock down Carmelo Anthony down the stretch. After lighting up the Clippers for 18 points in the second, Melo had only two shots and four points in nearly 10 minutes of fourth-quarter burn.

"I thought Grant was the difference in the game, really," Del Negro said after the 102-88 win. That, and very few mistakes down the stretch.

"It really gives us confidence as a team that the ball is going to be taken care of, and it's going to go to the right spot. It's going to be a methodical style of basketball," Griffin said of having what amounts to two point guards on the floor during critical moments, in Paul and Billups. "Everything is thought out, there's no careless mistakes. It helps when your two guys that are going to have the ball the most are on top of the game and controlling it."

*****

There's still plenty to debate about the team's title hopes, but after two high-profile games with diametrically opposite results, one important thing becomes clear: The Clippers now speak the language of a team with championship aspirations, with common themes and messaging throughout the locker room.

Individually, the Clippers are a very entertaining bunch, filled with big personalities and sly humor. Collectively, in front of the media they're a semi-cliche spouting homage to big pictureness.

The hardest game of any long road trip is the last one. The finish line is so close, and more than anything players just want to get home. They might miss their families, or their beds, or the ability to take clothes they haven't been looking at for two weeks out of the closet.

After the loss to Miami, Billups noted how they split the season series with the Heat, each team defending its home court as "great teams are supposed to do," something a player only notes about a non-conference opponent if he thinks they might meet again in June.

Paul was honked about the (and his) result, but understood why he didn't play late. “This wasn't Game 7 of the Finals," he said. "It's a marathon for us, not a sprint.”

The consistency of message -- learning to speak that championship language and understanding everything is about the long-term goal of a title -- isn't an accident. Billups says it's something he and Paul began instilling last year, boosted this season by the addition of Odom (the emotional core of two title teams with the Lakers) and the well-respected Hill.

"It's something our vets have kind of instilled in us,” Griffin told RedBullUSA.com on his way out of the Garden’s visitor’s locker room. “It's not something I realized (was important) coming in. But especially in these last two years, you have to look at such a bigger picture, whether it's home court advantage or figuring things out early. Or when we play a team two times in a row, or close to two times in a row, being able to figure things out and change on the fly.”

*****

The hardest game of any long road trip is the last one. The finish line is so close, and more than anything players just want to get home. They might miss their families, or their beds, or the ability to take clothes they haven't been looking at for two weeks out of the closet.

Monday in Philadelphia, the Clippers took the floor for the Grammy trip finale, ironically enough against a Sixers team wrapping up an eight-game home stand. And the whole "We're fully healthy!" thing? Already on ice. Small forward Caron Butler, who didn't play in the second half Sunday because of back stiffness, was replaced in the starting lineup by Matt Barnes. Billups was a game-time scratch, thanks to back stiffness of his own.

No worries. Paul, Griffin, and Crawford combined for 61 points on 26-of-35 from the floor. The Clippers shot a season high 58.7 percent as a team and ran up a gaudy 32-point lead before tossing it in cruise control in the fourth. Nothing like a 17-point win that isn't as close as the score indicates to cap off a trip.

They finished the trip 4-4, but a .500 mark didn't tell the whole story.

The Clippers had been to NBA road trip hell, and by the end were definitely back. Figuratively, and after one more cross-country flight, literally, as well.

Follow Brian Kamenetzky and Red Bull on Twitter for more updates.

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