Clippers ready for sprint to finish

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
12:11
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The lined white board in the corner of Los Angeles Clippers' locker room went untouched through the first half of the season.

In previous seasons, it was updated daily with the current NBA standings, but it had basically picked up dust this season until last week when the standings were once again updated daily.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesBoth Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are feeling good about where the Clippers are at heading into the All-Star break.
Coach Doc Rivers simply shrugged his shoulders when this was brought to his attention Wednesday night. He deadpanned that it was the handy work of the team's equipment manager.

"I didn't know it was there until someone else told me," Rivers said. "It was the same thing in Boston. It wasn't there, and then somehow it appeared. I guess there is an equipment manager union that they have to put it up at some point. I don't know what the hell that thing is."

The chances of Rivers, who has the first and last say on everything that happens with the Clippers, suddenly being surprised by something posted in his locker room are slim to none. Nevertheless, the reappearance of the standings in the locker room with 27 games left in the season makes sense.

After Wednesday's 122-117 win over Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers are 37-18 and mere percentage points behind Portland and Houston, who are tied at 36-17, for the third seed in the West. They are also only two games behind the San Antonio Spurs, whom they play next Tuesday at Staples Center in the first game after the All-Star break. By this time next week, there's a chance the Clippers could be the No. 2 seed in the West.

"Honestly, I don't know if I ever look at [the standings]," Rivers said. "I always ask, 'If I look at it, does that make me do something different? Oh, I better coach different today because ...' -- you know what I mean? I look at it if I'm walking by it, and I glance at it and I'll say, 'Oh.' It still doesn't change anything. After the All-Star break, it's a race, bottom line."

The race begins as soon as the Clippers return from the break Monday. And as much as Rivers says he's not looking at the standings, there's no question the Clippers would like to avoid a first-round matchup with Portland or Houston if they get stuck in that 4-5 pairing, as they have the past two seasons.

Coming into 2013-14, the Clippers were hoping to win the Pacific Division (they currently have a five-game lead atop the division) and be a top-two seed in the West (they are currently two games out of the No. 2 seed). These were goals the Clippers probably thought they had to temper when Chris Paul was sidelined for 19 games, J.J. Redick missed 25 games and Matt Barnes was out for 19 games. Rivers can count on one hand (maybe one finger) the number of times his team has been at full strength, yet the Clippers are still in position to accomplish their goals heading into the stretch run.

"What we've gone through with injuries, you like where we're at and you know the chances of us getting a lot better is likely," Rivers said. "I like spiritually where we're at as a team."

One of the biggest reasons the Clippers want to get a top-two seed in the West is their impressive record at home. They are now 23-4 at Staples Center, and only Oklahoma City (23-3) and Indiana (25-3) have better home records than the Clippers, who have sold out 121 straight games. In fact, since the 2011-12 season, only the Thunder, Heat and Spurs have a better cumulative home record than the Clippers.

"We definitely know what the standings are," Blake Griffin said. "I don't think it's too early to concern yourself with trying to move up in the standings and have the best possible record. When you get into the playoffs, having every home-court advantage you possibly can is huge."

When Griffin was told Rivers never looks at the standings, he smiled and said, "I'll start telling him every day now."

While the Clippers know they can make a move in the standings early after the All-Star break, simply the fact that they're in a position to do that despite all their injuries and playing more road games than most teams in the league at the break gives them reason to be optimistic.

"I'm happy," Paul said. "I'm in a great place as far as our team going into the break -- one of the best feelings I've had about a team since I've been in the league. Just strictly because of defense. I think a lot of people see that [Portland] scored 117 points tonight, and are like, 'What is he talking about?' but the mindset is there. It's a work in progress, and hopefully we peak at the right time. For me, we're in a good place right now."

The feeling the Clippers have going into the break could best be described by the smile on Rivers' face as he wrapped up his final news conference before All-Star Weekend as players could be heard celebrating in the locker room with their kids.

"I just love where we're at right now," Rivers said. "It's a good vibe."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
23.1 4.7 0.8 35.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.4
AssistsC. Paul 9.7
StealsC. Paul 2.0
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4