LOS ANGELES—And so one game remains in the record-setting season of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers have accomplished so much already this season, but so much is still to be decided Wednesday night in Sacramento. The Clippers, on a seven-game win streak, are already a lock for the playoffs so Wednesday’s game isn’t exactly for all the marbles, but there are some pretty big ones still rolling around out there.
A victory Wednesday night at Sacramento would clinch home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the Clippers and they still have an outside shot of moving up to the No. 3 seed and an easier first-round matchup.
Securing home court and moving up to the No. 3 seed depends on one thing, however: The Clippers have to win.
“You can speculate and think about this and the other thing, but at the end of the day you have to go out and you have to earn it,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “No one is going to give it to you. If they do, we’ll take it, but right now our mindset is we’re going to go earn it and it’s not going to be an easy game.”
The scenarios for the Clippers (55-26) on the last day of the regular season are three-fold:
1. If the Clippers win and the Denver Nuggets (56-25) lose to the Phoenix Suns (25-56), the Clippers would tie the Nuggets, earn the No. 3 spot because they are the Pacific Division champions and get home court in the first round against the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.
3. If the Clippers and Memphis both lose, the two would meet in the first round of the playoffs with the Clippers holding home court advantage.
“We’re not set in stone in one seed,” Chris Paul said. “All the previous 81 games led up to [Wednesday] so [Wednesday] is another big game for us.”
The Nuggets and the Grizzlies both play early enough Wednesday that the Clippers will have an idea of the situation by the time they tip off at 7:30 p.m. in Sacramento. Surely they will be scoreboard watching but they say they must prepare as if Memphis and Denver will both win.
“We have to take care of our business and that’s all we can do,” Matt Barnes said. “There are some other games that have an effect on what we do, but if we go out and take care of our business, nothing too bad will happen to us.”
The odds are against the Clippers moving up to the No. 3 seed. The Nuggets and Phoenix are playing in Denver, where the Nuggets boast an NBA-best 37-3 home record. Phoenix, meanwhile is at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and is tied with Sacramento for fewest road wins in the conference.
Memphis is also at home for its game against the Jazz. The Grizzlies are 31-9 at home this season while Utah is 13-27 on the road. One thing going in the Clippers favor is that Utah is playing for its playoff life. The Jazz must win and hope the Lakers lose in order to make the post season.
One thing working against the Clippers is the situation in Sacramento. The Kings (28-53) are among the bottom three teams in the Western Conference and a pedestrian 20-20 at home this season, but the fans will surely be out in full force Wednesday because it could be the last game for the Kings in Sacramento. The team is contemplating a move to Seattle so the game will carry some emotion.
The Clippers embrace that.
“I hope it’s going to be crazy,” said Barnes, who played for the Kings in 2004-05. “I hope the fans really come out and support that team. It’ll be a hostile environment similar to the playoffs so we’ve got to go in there and keep our composure and play good basketball.”
The only thing that really matters to the Clippers, however, is getting a win.
“It’s not about the environment,” Del Negro said. “It’s about us locking in and executing and slowing them down in areas and transition defense. We’ve got to go in with the right mindset, the right level of intensity that needs to be executed and if we do that we’ll have more opportunity.”