LOS ANGELES -- As the NBA regular season inches closer to its conclusion, the standings board in the corner of the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room has become more and more elaborate.
At the beginning of the season it was a lined whiteboard with nothing written on it. Last month it began to get updated daily in blue marker. Now there are logo magnets showing the Clippers players and coaches exactly where they stand.
If the season were to end today the Clippers would host the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and be in the dreaded 4-5 matchup in the first round for the third consecutive season.
As much as the Clippers have improved over the past three seasons, it will be hard for them to accomplish their ultimate goals unless the Clippers’ magnet on the whiteboard moves closer to the top by season’s end. As it stands now, they are just two games away from the second seed in the West and 2½ games out of the top spot.
The most recent team seeded lower than third to win the title was the Houston Rockets in 1995. The most recent team seeded lower than third to even make it to the NBA Finals was the Boston Celtics in 2010, coached by none other than Doc Rivers.
Rivers has made two trips to the NBA Finals, winning it all with Boston as the top seed in 2008 and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, when the Celtics were beaten in Games 6 and 7 at Staples Center after holding a 3-2 series lead.
“We’re a lot younger than the team in Boston,” Rivers said. “In the first year , we needed a 1-seed because we hadn’t been through the playoffs yet. The last time , I think we had a chance to get home-court [advantage] in the first round and we chose to rest our guys in the last game of the year. Our guys chose not to play. They’d rather have the rest, but that was a veteran team.
“This is not that group. This is a very young group and we haven’t done anything in the playoffs. It would be nice to have home court.”
Not only would it be nice to have home court as young team, the Clippers are 27-5 at home this season, the best record in the conference. They also are averaging more than 110 points per game at home, the highest in the league.
“The one thing I’ve noticed since Day 1 is our fans are different,” Chris Paul said. “They’re into in the game, excited about the games and look forward to the games. We need them and we feed off their energy and excitement. We talk about that before we run out onto the court every night. We want to make this a tough place to play.”
Los Angeles isn’t normally a city where fans arrive early or wear the T-shirts handed to them at the doors or make a lot of noise before tipoff.
It’s a different scene at Staples Center, which turns into a sea of red for Clippers home games in the postseason as fans turn L.A. Live, across the street from the arena, into a party zone hours before the game starts.
No team has leaned more on their home-court advantage this season than the Clippers, who are 18-15 on the road and were below .500 away from home before their current season-high eight-game winning streak. The Dallas Mavericks are the only other team in the top nine in the West to have lost as many road games, and they may not even be in the postseason.
“We want to move up to the 1-seed,” DeAndre Jordan said. “In the end it doesn’t matter what seed you are, but we want to move up as high as we can. Home court has been great for our team, but we just have to win some game on the road against quality teams. We’re working on that and we’re doing a better job of that.
“We’re not going to be able to beat anybody in the playoffs unless we win on the road. As players, we told each other that and we’re getting better at that.”
While Paul, Jordan and Blake Griffin have led the Clippers to unprecedented heights over three seasons, none of them has ever made it past the second round of the playoffs. Before Glen “Big Baby” Davis signed with the team last month, the Clippers didn’t have a player on the active roster who knew what it was like to navigate all the way through the playoffs and win a championship.
It was a big reason the Clippers went all out to bring Rivers and his staff over from Boston, and also a big reason why they wanted to add Davis to the roster before the final playoff push.
“Seeding can play a big role as far as your route,” Davis said. “In 2010, when were the 4-seed, our focus and intensity level was definitely different. It was through the roof.
“The lower seed you are, the less you have room for error. You have to win on the road. The second round, conference finals and [NBA] Finals you’re on the road. It’s a crazy focus level.”
As Davis looks at the playoff seeding posted to the left of his locker, he smiles before shrugging his shoulders.
“We know it’s going to be hard, but we want the easiest route to the championship,” Davis said. “Everything comes into play. But at the end of the day we’re going to have to roll with what we have no matter if it’s the 1, 2, 3 or the 4. We have to find a way.”