INDIANAPOLIS -- Time will tell if the Los Angeles Clippers, as currently constructed, are good enough to win an NBA championship.
Everyone has an opinion.
But Doc Rivers, who doubles as head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations, likes what he has seen so far despite being 0-5 against the top five teams in the league on the road this season. Saturday’s 106-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers was the latest blemish on that record.
“I like our team,” Rivers said Saturday. “That doesn’t mean we won’t make changes. We’re not looking to make changes, but we’re always looking just like every other team. I like our team right now. If the season ended and we had the group we have right now, I like how we look. Obviously, I’d add Chris Paul to that group -- but other than that I like our team a lot.”
Rivers didn’t want to make excuses for his team’s inability to beat the best teams in the league on the road this season, but schedule makers certainly didn’t do the Clippers any favors. Not only are they on their second two-week trip this season, but all five loses against the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Pacers have come on the second night of a road back-to-back.
When Rivers was asked after the game how he could gauge his team against the league’s elite with the scheduling quirk he said, “You don’t.”
“I don’t judge them on that,” Rivers said. “It’s hard. It’s impossible. We’re playing them on a back-to-back and Indiana could be doing it on another night. You just want to be good every night. You do look at the Miamis and Indianas and all the other teams that are good, but you can’t use that as your measuring stick, completely.”
It’s understandable to look at the Clippers’ record against the league’s top five teams -- 2-6 overall, including home games -- and point to that as a reason why they aren’t quite contenders yet. But the truth is the regular season is a collection of 82 singular games that don’t translate well when trying to measure a team’s ability to win in the postseason.
If the Clippers do end up playing the likes of Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Portland in the playoffs, they won’t be playing in Orlando, New York, Memphis, Dallas or Oakland the night before. That might not necessarily equate to a win, but it’s hard to take the Clippers out of the contender category and put them in the pretender pile based on those five losses.
Blake Griffin didn’t seem overly concerned with the losses in November, December and January, hoping to avenge those shortcomings in April, May and June.
“It’s disappointing. You’d much rather have wins at all those places,” Griffin said. “But we’ll take those wins on the road come playoffs. That’s really our biggest goal.”
The one thing Rivers and the Clippers will not do this season is make any drastic changes to the team based off L.A.'s record against the league’s best teams. Rivers believes the Clippers are a contender with the group they have and need more time together rather than more change.
“Our team's key is growth, not change,” Rivers said. “Obviously, if there was a change that you can make to help your team you would do it, but I like our team."
Before this season started, Rivers raised some eyebrows by saying the Clippers also had a “Big Three” in Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Before the 2013-14 season, Jordan had done little to be included in that type of conversation, but he now leads the NBA in rebounds (13.5) and field goal percentage (63.7 percent) and is third in blocks (2.5).
“The first year with the ‘Big Three’ [in Boston], I honestly thought we’d get off slowly,” Rivers said. “I was pushing them to get off to a good start and we got off to a crazy start, it was like 24-2. I didn’t expect that and it never stopped. It was just one of those years where we went through the league.
“When we got to the playoffs, I was concerned because we didn’t have a two-game losing streak the entire season. And that’s scary when you go into the playoffs and you haven’t been tested, because what happens when we have some adversity?”
This Clippers team is currently facing adversity, playing without Paul for six weeks after he separated his right shoulder. But Rivers believes the Clippers will be a stronger team later this season and in the postseason for playing through these challenges and trusting in their system.
“Your system is always tested,” Rivers said. “When you’re winning, everybody credits your system. And when you lose a couple of games, they don’t like the system anymore. It’s a yearlong buy-in and through the playoffs and through the adversity you have to go through a lot. [Pat Riley] used to say you have to go through something to get something, and there’s a lot of truth to that.”