The biggest reason the Clippers are in this position is because, heading into Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, they were 4-4 in their last eight games and 15-13 after a league-best 32-9 start to the season.
They hadn't won consecutive games since winning four straight from Feb. 23 to Mar. 1. To say the Clippers needed to win Saturday's game against the Nets would be a massive understatement after the Nuggets and Grizzlies both won on Saturday as well.
The Clippers did just that with a 101-95 win that put them a half-game up on the Grizzlies for the 4-seed and a half-game behind Denver for the 3-seed. The Clippers, as a division winner, would hold the tiebreaker with either team.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Willie's a pro
One of the first things any player or coach says about Willie Green is, "Willie's a pro." It almost has become a cliché around Lob City. The reason Green is often called a pro by his teammates is he never complains about his role on the team, which often changes depending on Chauncey Billups' health. If Billups is healthy, which has been the case only 19 games this season, Green is the last player on the Clippers' bench and doesn't play. When Billups is out, Green becomes the team's starting shooting guard.
Green responded to yet another start by having his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Green also added three rebounds in just 20 minutes on the court.
"Willie's a pro," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's always competitive. He's always the first guy in the gym and one of the last to leave. He's going to stay ready. He understands the big picture and he's just one of those guys you don't have to worry about. He's going to be ready when his number is called."
The Clippers regained the sparkplug of their second team on Saturday when Eric Bledsoe returned to the lineup for the first time since March 7 because of a sore left calf. Bledsoe looked like his old self at times, running up and down the court and causing havoc on defense. He finished with seven points and two rebounds in 12 minutes. Before the game Del Negro said Bledsoe's return would help the Clippers just as much defensively as it would offensively when he plays with the second unit.
"Eric is very athletic, and he has very good instincts out there, so he speeds the tempo up a little bit," Del Negro said. "His athleticism is eye-catching when he's out there and gets going."
The return of Bledsoe also allowed Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes to play their natural positions and both players combined for 18 points on Saturday.
It took a while, but Chris Paul made his presence felt late in the game after going scoreless in the first quarter and only scoring six points in the first half. Paul scored 23 points in the second half, 17 in the fourth quarter alone, and finished with 29 points and 11 assists. Paul's teammates and coaches constantly ask him to be more aggressive earlier in the game and to set the tone and that doing so will open things up later in the game. Paul has been more comfortable doing the reverse this season and on Saturday it worked out just fine for the Clippers.