Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Clippers have larger goals in mind
By Arash Markazi
PHOENIX -- There was a time when winning 50 games, clinching a playoff berth and securing the Pacific Division title were milestones the Los Angeles Clippers would celebrate.
After all, last season was the first time the Clippers had won more than 49 games, the first time they had ever won the division and only the sixth time they had made the playoffs since 1976.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul aren't satisfied with only a division title, especially after losing in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Not only are such milestones not celebrated this season, they are completely ignored.
When the Clippers reached 50 wins last week, none of the players were aware of the "milestone" until they were asked after the game. When they officially clinched a playoff berth Saturday, they were even more apathetic as they are currently in the midst of trying to catch the Oklahoma City for the No. 2 playoff seed in the West.
And on Wednesday, after winning their second straight division title, with a 112-108 comeback win over the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers sounded genuinely surprised.
"Oh, great," coach Doc Rivers deadpanned. "I mean it's good. It's nice."
Last season when the Clippers won 17 straight games, won 50 games, clinched a playoff berth and won the division, the scoreboard at Staples Center would blast the announcement after games and Clippers owner Donald Sterling would congratulate the players in the locker room as if they had won a title. Division championship shirts and hats greeted the players when they walked into the locker room after clinching last season.
This season, well, the only focus the Clippers have is winning an NBA title. Everything else is no reason to celebrate.
"I didn't bring it up because I didn't even know," Rivers said. "I didn't know about it. It's always nice to win whatever you win, but it's clearly not what we're playing for so I don't see why we should bring out the party hats. You only get one shot at that and I think we'll wait for that."
Matt Barnes started his career with the Clippers a decade ago and remembers what it was like to be 28-54 and in last place in the Pacific Division. He knows that 54-22 and a division title is an upgrade, but it's far from the ultimate goal.
"Granted, the organization hasn't accomplished much, but they've put a great team together and we expect much more out of ourselves," Barnes said. "Those small things like winning streaks and division titles and playoff berths don't mean much. We expect a championship. We don't talk about let's get this division banner. We talk about let's get this championship banner."
The Clippers don't even have a division championship banner, despite winning their first one last season. The sole reminder of that title is a painted game ball in the trophy case at the Clippers' training facility. A trophy case that also holds game balls commemorating their 17-game winning streak, their Game 7 win over Memphis in the first round two years ago and the four-number lottery ball combination that led to the Clippers drafting Blake Griffin in the 2009 NBA draft.
It's a trophy case that the current Clippers players won't really consider a trophy case until they add an NBA title.
"It's nice I guess, but it doesn't really mean much,” Chris Paul said of winning the division. "We won the division last year and lost in the first round."
Paul, like every player in the Clippers' locker room, said he didn't know about the division title until asked. There was a time when Paul would want to know these milestones. He would tell the Clippers' longtime broadcaster, Ralph Lawler, to tell him every time the Clippers played in a city where they hadn't won in a while. He wanted to break those losing streaks one by one. Now that he and the team have, their goals are much bigger.
"Ralph would tell me in every city that we haven't won here since whenever," Paul said. "Now we just play. Last year we would have known going into the game that we have a chance to win the division. Now we don't care. It's all about the bigger picture. These wins are all good and well, but we know what we're playing for."
DeAndre Jordan acted surprised when told the Clippers had clinched the division. Jamal Crawford said he found out about it on Twitter after the game. Griffin, simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled when he learned the news.
"It's an accomplishment and something to be proud of but by no means is that what we're aiming for," Griffin said. "We have much bigger goals. That's one of them on the way to it. It's not plastered everywhere anymore. What is this, our [second] 50-win season? And we clinched our third straight playoff spot? Hopefully those things become less and less of a big deal. They remain a staple in our franchise. It's definitely something to be proud of, I don't want to dismiss that at all but those are small goals on the way to our bigger goal."