Even at the Clippers' highest point this year, back when health was an ally and they were rolling off wins faster than Jay-Z spits out new rhymes, they never took themselves so seriously to assume they were doing anything more than grinding away at a season.

The calendar had not yet flipped to the New Year, and for all the good going on, they realized mine fields and turmoil surely waited ahead.

Maybe that's what they can easily shrug off the crisis that's arrived as an inevitable cross-road in a long NBA season.

Their sixth loss in eight games came Sunday in Boston against the wounded Celtics,106-104, the result of another horrible second quarter and a Paul Pierce three-point dagger in the closing seconds to squash a spirited fourth-quarter comeback.

It was a frustrating outcome on various levels - their 10-point second quarter dooming them to a 19-point deficit, two Jamal Crawford turnovers in the final two minutes denying them valuable possessions and Pierce's three-pointer typifying another unbalanced defensive effort.

But frustrating and crushing are two completely different concepts, one the Clippers are well aware of. And while they limp from Boston to the nation's capitol in a definite rut, they do so with their spirit and perspective still intact.

Just as they didn't exaggerate their success in December, they won't overreact to their

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problems in early February.

"When we won 17 games in a row we weren't on top of the world," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford pointed out. "And we won't get too low now."

It helps, of course, knowing Chris Paul has been sidelined the last seven games and 10 of the last 12 with a bruised knee and that his return sometime this week seems likely.

It's no coincidence the Clippers biggest slide this year is occurring with their best player out with an injury. Paul is arguably the second best player in the NBA, and if his MVP candidacy wasn't secure before getting hurt it's certainly been amplified since going out.

The Clippers are simply not the same team without him. The record proves that, and their awkward execution down the stretch Sunday the result of it.