Los Angeles Clippers: Glen Davis
They will wake up with no more games to play and no escape from the fact that they play for a team with an unclear owner and an uncertain future.
On Sunday, while the Clippers were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series, Donald Sterling was telling Anderson Cooper on CNN that he is sorry for his comments and isn’t a racist. Shelly Sterling was telling Barbara Walters on ABC that she plans to divorce Donald and fight to keep the Clippers. And Dick Parsons, the former chairman of Time Warner and Citigroup, was flying to Los Angeles to assume his new job as the league-appointed interim CEO of the Clippers.
The Clippers’ season appeared on the brink of collapse when coach Doc Rivers called a timeout early in the fourth quarter and asked his players to look at each other and trust in each other. This game, this series and their season were not over.
"We all sat down and you looked at everybody’s face and nobody wanted to go home," Glen Davis said. "Everybody was saying, 'Hey, we’re going to win this game.'"
“You mean in the four times,” Rivers said. “Any of those stats don’t matter. If you said the Lakers or the Celtics, then that would matter. With us, at least those historical playoffs things, [it doesn’t resonate] here.”
It’s no secret the Clippers don’t have much of a playoff history. Even if they were to win Sunday’s Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers have lost five of six best-of-seven series when tied 2-2. And they have never advanced past the second round.
Doc Rivers cares less about the Clippers' meager playoff history and more about the tough lessons his players are learning in their series against the more-grizzled Thunder.
Yes, the Clippers have made great strides. But they still have yet to win more than one game in the second round.
There is only one player on their roster -- Glen Davis -- who has won a title, and he’s a reserve. Only one starter -- J.J. Redick -- has played in the NBA Finals.
At some point, the Clippers believe, they can get to the conference finals and the Finals and win a title. But their lack of experience in these moments is often exposed while going up against an Oklahoma City team that has enjoyed repeated success over the past five seasons, including a trip to the Finals.
“That’s the one advantage Oklahoma has had on us,” Rivers said. “They have several guys that have been all the way to the Finals, and they get it. They get the urgency of every single possession. We’ve been in and out of that throughout the playoffs. For us to keep going, we have to get that every-possession urgency.
“Offensively we scored 112 points [Friday], but we took off 15 possessions where we were running it but we weren’t running it crisply. We didn’t get to the right spots; we took shortcuts. Those are the things you just can’t do, and I think our guys are quickly understanding that. That point alone was beaten into us.”
It’s all part of the process and growth Rivers has talked about with the Clippers since arriving last summer. As much as he wanted to win a title in his first season, he also wanted the Clippers to take strides in learning how to become championship contenders.
When Rivers heard Paul call Game 4 a “must-win” game, he said that’s how Paul and the Clippers should approach every game and every possession in the postseason.
“I think Games 1, 2 and 3 were must wins,” Rivers said. “I honestly think that’s the urgency you have to play with in the playoffs, and I think we’ve been in and out of that. That’s, right now, the lessons we’re learning. You can still keep getting better through the playoffs. That’s why you don’t panic. You keep getting better and you keep pushing. There’s growth with every team.
“Miami will grow during the playoffs. You grow during the playoffs. You learn. You get beat and you learn, and you get better or you go home; it’s one of those two things. That’s part of the process. You have to be willing to take it, understand it, process it and move on.”
Despite being down 2-1 in their series against Oklahoma City, the Clippers weren’t too concerned after practice on Saturday. L.A. was down 1-0 to the Golden State Warriors and won its first-round series.
The Clippers also showed they could win on the road -- twice, including a Game 7 -- two years ago against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers still feel good about their chances versus OKC, but those hopes largely rely on tying the series up on Sunday here at home.
“We put ourselves in a hole, but we just have to correct some of our mistakes,” Blake Griffin said. “We came back from this situation down 1-0. It has turned, but it’s not like we’re down 3-0. We’re down 2-1 and we got another game at home.
“We need to correct our mistakes, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about or be down about. We have a chance to even it up Sunday.”
LOS ANGELES -- After two lopsided games for both teams to start the series, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder were due for a close game that would finally live up to the hype preceding this series.
That’s exactly what happened Friday, as the Thunder took a 2-1 series lead with a 118-112 win over the Clippers.
In a game that saw 13 ties and 19 lead changes, the Thunder were able to pull away late and take control of the game and the series, thanks to Kevin Durant’s 36 points and Russell Westbrook’s near triple-double of 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds.
How it happened: It was a seesaw game for most of the night with exchanging leads as the stars played like it for most of the evening. While Durant and Westbrook will get the headlines, the Thunder are at their best when their role players have big nights; and they did Friday. Serge Ibaka scored 20 points, Reggie Jackson posted 14 points and former Clipper Caron Butler also had 14.
What it means: The Thunder have taken a 2-1 series lead and can take a commanding 3-1 lead Sunday before the series returns back to Oklahoma City.
Hits: Chris Paul had 21 points and 16 assists and was far more aggressive than he was in Game 2 -- but still not what he was in the Game 1. Blake Griffin had his best game of the series, finishing with 34 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Matt Barnes had 14 points, and Jamal Crawford, fresh off his Sixth Man of the Year award, had 20 points.
Misses: After playing well in the first two games of the series, J.J. Redick was a nonfactor in Game 3, finishing with three points after missing his first five shots and going 1-for-6 from the field. Glen Davis also was a liability when he was on the court, finishing with two points and with plus/minus of minus-12.
Stat of the game: The Thunder had the advantage in points in the paint (52-48), rebounding (44-33) and fast-break points (19-14). Throughout most of the game, Oklahoma City held the advantage when it came to hustle plays and 50-50 balls.
Up next: The Clippers will take on the Thunder in Game 4 of their second-round series at 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday in Los Angeles.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Los Angeles Clippers came into Oklahoma City looking to steal one game and home-court advantage. After doing that Monday night, the Clippers were looking for something more on Wednesday night that would never materialize.
The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided dropping their first two home games to the Clippers and tied up their second-round playoff series at 1-1 after claiming a 112-101 victory.
Kevin Durant, who was presented with the MVP trophy before the game by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, scored 17 points in the first quarter as the Thunder took an 11-point lead. Although the Clippers would come back, the Thunder controlled the game for the most part, going up by as many as 20 points, and Durant finished with 32 points. Russell Westbrook had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double in his past five playoff games.
How it happened: The Thunder came out firing after Durant was given the MVP trophy and a standing ovation by the sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Durant's big quarter had the Thunder up by 11 points early. The Clippers stormed back to take a four-point lead, but the Thunder came right back and were up by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and never trailed again.
What it means: The Clippers and Thunder are now tied 1-1 after two games in their second-round series, with the next two games taking place in Los Angeles on Friday and Sunday.
Hits: Chris Paul had 17 points and 11 assists but wasn't as aggressive as he was in Game 1, when he had 32 points and eight 3-pointers. Paul shot only 6-of-13 from the field and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. J.J. Redick was solid, scoring a team-high 18 points and hitting 7 of 10 shots from the field and 2 of 4 on 3-pointers. Matt Barnes had 11 points, and Darren Collison and Glen Davis combined for 23 points off the bench.
Misses: Blake Griffin finished third in MVP voting this season and will need to play like the third-best player in the league for the Clippers to have chance in this series. On Wednesday, he was nonexistent early and finished with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds and two turnovers. Jamal Crawford also didn't play up to his sixth-man-of-the-year status, finishing with seven points on 2-of-13 shooting and hitting only 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Stat of the game: After going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, the Clippers went 5-for-21 over the final three quarters from long range.
Up next: The Clippers will take on the Thunder in Game 3 on Friday night at Staples Center.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Over the past six days, the Los Angeles Clippers have leaned on each other to get through one of the most chaotic, grueling and draining weeks they had ever experienced.
With an opportunity to close out the week and the Golden State Warriors early, they went in their own directions Thursday at Oracle Arena.
After finally finding their way together off the court, they lost it on the court during their 100-99 loss to the Warriors, who forced a decisive Game 7 back in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Blake Griffin got in foul trouble Thursday and exited early. When he's not in with Chris Paul, the Clippers seem to lose their rhythm and confidence in one another.
Sometimes the Clippers have that trust, and sometimes they don’t.
On Thursday, as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick battled through injuries and foul trouble -- with the latter two fouling out in the fourth quarter -- the Clippers decided to go in their own separate directions in search of a victory.
“We've just got to trust each other,” Rivers said after the game. “I thought the third quarter, we stopped trusting. We were basically an iso basketball team. No fun to watch, and we're not very good at it.”
One of the biggest reasons Rivers was pried away from the Boston Celtics last summer and brought to Los Angeles was to lead the Clippers through moments like this. Not only does he have a championship ring to his name, during that 2008 title run with the Celtics his team was pushed to Game 7 in the first two rounds.
During his time in Boston, Rivers coached in seven Game 7s and sported a 4-3 record.
“Well, I've lost some and I've won some,” Rivers said. “So the experience is you have to come to play. I've won some on the road, I've lost some at home, and you've got to go play. You've just got to go out there and play the game and be aggressive and try to take the game.
“When you're at home, you can't rely on home. That doesn't work. It's going to be great to be at home. We'll be back in our safe haven now, and the fans will give us great energy, but you've still got to perform -- and that is the bottom line.”
The only player on the Clippers roster with a championship ring is Glen Davis, who was with Rivers when the Celtics won in 2008 and when they lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010.
Davis thought his 2008 team learned how to play in the playoffs as they were pushed to the brink of elimination. After Thursday, he isn’t quite sure if the Clippers are learning the same lesson.
“We knew playing in a Game 7 we’d have home court advantage, but, at the same time, we had to go out there and make it happen,” Davis told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “The more and more that series went on, we realized that every possession counts. Every possession and every moment on the court counts. I think we, as a team ... I don’t think we understand that right now.”
Rivers has constantly talked about “emotional hijacks” with the Clippers and their tendency to get too high and too low during the normal ebb and flow of a game.
“When things go up, we have to keep our composure and make sure we stay levelheaded and do what we know how to do and play Clippers basketball,” Davis said. “I think we get away from that. I think too much we try individually to get it done. Everybody wants to win, but they don’t understand we have to win it together.
“And that’s giving yourself up for the next person. I think we saw today that’s how we need to play in order to win.”
It was an odd game that resembled the first game of the series in many ways, as Paul and Griffin were in foul trouble early, with Griffin fouling out late in the fourth quarter. When Paul and Griffin aren’t able to penetrate and create plays for their teammates, the offense, as well as the trust, crumbles.
“I think just ball movement and trusting our offense,” Griffin said when asked what the Clippers need to do to be successful in Game 7. “I think, honestly, it starts defensively for us. When we get stops, we kind of get into a better flow and a better rhythm. It's not just coming down and a matter of calling a play and doing what we do; it's a lot of things.”
As much as the Clippers want to consistently trust each other and the system, that level of trust doesn’t come easily or quickly. It comes over time -- and in moments like they will experience during Game 7 on Saturday.
“Experience is one of the main factors of understanding consistency,” Davis said. “Situations like this can build character, and hopefully we can get it now without having to sit out and wait for next year.”
But with two games left in the regular season after Saturday’s 117-101 win over the Sacramento Kings, those standings and the start of the playoffs next week are clearly the only things the Clippers are focused on. Their third-place finish in the Western Conference standings is cemented, and their opponent in the first round -- the Golden State Warriors -- is essentially locked in as well.
"We’ve already started," Rivers said when asked when the Clippers will start planning for the Warriors. "We pretty much, in our opinion, felt like that's who we were going to play for the last week or two. But I don't know how much more attention you can pay to a team than you already do anyway. It is nice. You're preparing and I'm sure they're preparing for us. It's not anything with the players. It's more the looks and the film stuff that you can start cutting and getting ready."
A first-round matchup between the Clippers and Warriors would certainly not be void of history and storylines. While both teams are young and trying to change the culture of two historically downtrodden franchises, over the past two seasons, both teams have grown a disdain for each other that is sure to boil over during the course of a seven-game series.
"You have two power forwards in David [Lee] and Blake [Griffin], and David is trying prove he’s an All-Star, which he is. You have Steph[en] Curry, who is emerging and no longer wants to be under Chris Paul’s shadow. He wants to show people what he can do. The playoffs is where rivalries are made. If they play each other in the first round, it will be a great series, and I’m sure a lot of emotions will be involved."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Don’t ask Doc Rivers about injured players.
It’s a dead-end road that usually leads to a cul-de-sac of shoulder shrugs and I-don’t-knows.
If you’re injured, you’re essentially invisible to the Los Angeles Clippers coach unless you are able to put on a uniform.
“Doc always says he doesn’t talk to you if you’re hurt,” Chris Paul said. “It’s funny. I’ve never been on a team like that. Usually when a guy’s out, guys in the locker room are saying it’s going to be tough tonight without this guy, but we rally around each other.”
Before Monday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Clippers found out they would be without Blake Griffin, who is battling back spasms, and Jamal Crawford, who is dealing with a sore left Achilles tendon. They joined J.J. Redick, who has missed the past 23 games with a bulging disk in his lower back, and Danny Granger, who was sent home for the final three games of this road trip with a strained left hamstring.
With 10 active players, the Clippers beat the Timberwolves 114-104, and led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter. After the game when Rivers was asked about Griffin, he once again shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn’t ask, I didn’t even have to make a decision,” Rivers said. “[Clippers trainer Jasen Powell] came to me and said he was out.”
Coaches are typically more invested in the injuries and recovery of their players, but Rivers is adamant that when players are out, Powell will let him know when they are able to play. Until then, it does him and the team no good to worry or think about what could have been.
It’s this mindset that has helped the Clippers withstand injuries this season not just to Griffin and Paul, but also every player on the roster except for DeAndre Jordan, who has started every game.
Darren Collison, who is starting at shooting guard because Redick and Crawford are both out, finished with 28 points and seven assists Monday, while Paul had 22 points and nine assists. Dudley, who hadn’t started since Jan. 18 and had completely fallen out of the rotation, finished with 16 points.
“Before we ran out on the floor tonight and we were in the huddle, I said, ‘Fellas, let’s be who we are,'” Paul said. “We got who we got and keep the train moving. No excuses, the next guy comes in and plays.”
When Paul was out, Griffin showed he was an MVP candidate, and if Griffin is out, Paul might once again prove he’s an MVP candidate, but the real MVP candidate on the team might be the one guy who won’t get a single Coach of the Year vote.
“Doc Rivers is that good,” Crawford said. “There are no excuses. It’s Doc. I think I’ve had a great year. Blake went to an MVP level. Chris is having another one of his years, but Doc is the true MVP of this team. He keeps us prepared. He keeps us locked in. We know exactly what we’re supposed to do night in and night out. He sets that standard for us.”
Rivers not only doesn’t have time for injured players (he sent Granger home when it was discovered he would be out for a week), he also doesn’t have time for distractions. When Glen “Big Baby” Davis was making a scene after being taken out of Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets, Rivers kicked him off the bench and had him escorted back to the locker room by team security. Afterward, he spoke to Davis and Davis apologized to the team.
“Doc is Doc,” Davis said. “I’m an emotional guy and sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me. Sometimes it can be a good thing and sometimes it can be a bad thing, and in this case it was a bad thing. I need to get better. I want to help this team. I don’t want to just be here. I want to be sure I can play Clipper basketball.”
What it means to play “Clipper basketball” has certainly changed over the years, but under Rivers it has meant playing the same kind of basketball no matter what lineup is on the floor.
“It’s huge because you just never know what’s going to happen in any game in the playoffs,” Paul said. “It gives you the confidence to know that you can do it. It doesn’t mean one guy has to do too much. Other guys get opportunities and minutes. It’s fun that way, I’m telling you it’s so much fun. Regardless of who’s on the court, we play our way.”
HOUSTON -- As Los Angeles Clippers forward Jared Dudley sat in the visiting locker room of the Toyota Center on Saturday night, he had a question for me.
Why don’t the Clippers get more media coverage in L.A?
It was a fair question, and one I often get from friends and family visiting me from out of town when they turn on local TV and radio stations.
The Clippers have had one of the five best records in the league this season, while the Los Angeles Lakers have had one of the five worst records in the league. But the unofficial breakdown on coverage on the local airwaves is still probably about 95 percent to 5 percent, in favor of the Lakers.
“There’s more drama with the Lakers,” I told him. “It’s a real-life reality show.”
The only thing Hollywood loves more than a winner is a good drama. And even when the Lakers aren’t winning, they’re making headlines with Jeanie and Jim Buss trying to run the team together, Phil Jackson bolting for New York, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman getting into a war of words with Mike D’Antoni, Kobe Bryant calling out management, Steve Nash saying he’s still playing for the money, and even Nick Young’s house getting burglarized.
Meanwhile, down the street in Lob City, there’s usually nothing but peace, quiet and highlight-reel plays, which is great in most municipalities. But that’s not enough in the entertainment capital of the world.
Enter stage left, Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
The serenity that the Clippers once enjoyed was shaken Saturday night when Davis, who was signed by the Clippers last month, was sent off the court by Doc Rivers and escorted back to the locker room by team security.
When Davis was taken out of the game early in the second quarter, he exchanged words with Rivers, who yelled at Davis to sit his, well, behind down. Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry then attempted to talk to Davis, but Rivers apparently had seen and heard enough at that point and sent him off the bench.
It was something Rivers had never done and something none of the players in the locker room had ever seen before. After the Clippers were forced to play without Blake Griffin, who was sidelined for the rest of the game after suffering back spasms in the first quarter, Griffin's replacement, Davis, gets ejected from the game by his coach.
“I've talked about emotional hijacks," Rivers said. "If you have one, I'll send you back. We've talked about that as a group. I didn't make a big deal, didn't address it halftime, and it's not a big deal. We needed him tonight, but he wasn't here emotionally. So you tell him to go and sit.”
Emotional hijacks aren’t ideal for a team, but they’re also not the worst thing in the world for a team in need of a shakeup.
After Davis was sent back to the locker room with the Clippers down 15 points, they went on a 34-18 run, took the lead at halftime, went up 13 in fourth quarter and won 118-107.
“I’ve never been on a team like this before,” said Chris Paul, who had 30 points and 12 assists. “I think a lot of teams, when a guy goes down, they start looking for excuses. And I’ve been on teams like that.
“Our team is like, 'All right, next man stand up,' and they know what to do.”
Not only were the Clippers united on the floor, they worked together after the game and acted as if they were unaware of the Davis incident -- or simply said it would be handled in-house -- before moving on to the next question.
But there’s nothing wrong with a championship-contending team having an emotional and unpredictable “Big Baby” in the locker room. Back in 2008, Davis was driven to tears at the end of the Celtics' bench in Boston when Kevin Garnett yelled at him. That team found a way to get to two Finals in three years and win one. Rivers was at the helm of those teams and knew what he was getting on and off the court when he signed Davis.
Rivers didn’t have an issue with Davis after the game.
“I love Baby,” Rivers said. “I just didn't think emotionally he was ready to play tonight, so we told him to go to the locker room.”
As he prepared to leave the locker room after the game, Dudley listened to reporters taking about the Davis incident and laughed.
“I guess you guys will be talking about us now,” he said.
“We’re missing guys, too,” Rivers said.
Rivers was referring to J.J. Redick and Danny Granger.
But that list would soon include Blake Griffin and Glen Davis before the first half of Saturday’s game.
Griffin left with 5:48 left in the first quarter with back spasms and did not return. Then Davis was sent back to the locker room for disciplinary reasons with 10:21 left in the second quarter.
None of it seemed to faze the Clippers. They came back from 15 points down to beat the Houston Rockets 118-107 and sweep the season series.
How it happened: The Clippers were trailing by 15 points in the second quarter when Rivers made the decision to remove Davis from the game. After he sent him back to the locker room, the Clippers went on a 34-18 run to take a 61-58 lead into the half and never looked back, opening up a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.
What it means: The Clippers have swept the season series against the Rockets and now hold a two-game lead on them in the standings and also own the tiebreaker. After starting their five-game road trip with a lackluster loss in New Orleans, the Clippers have responded by coming back from double-digit deficits on the road in Dallas and Houston to beat two playoff-caliber teams.
Hits: With Griffin out, Chris Paul was far more aggressive against the Rockets than he has been in a while. He finished with 30 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 12 rebounds and hit some big free throws down the stretch, when the Rockets sent him to the foul line intentionally. Matt Barnes had 15 points and 10 rebounds, including a late 3-pointer to put the game away.
Misses: On a night when the Clippers lost Griffin and needed Davis, “Big Baby” let the team down with behavior that led to Rivers sending him back to the locker room. He was signed primarily for his championship experience and time with Rivers; neither of those is worth a pouting player sitting in the locker room while you’re trying to mount a comeback on the road.
Stat of the game: The Clippers hit 12-of-41 from beyond the arc. The Clippers are now 31-1 this season when making at least nine 3-pointers.
Up next: The Clippers travel to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. The Clippers have defeated Minnesota in their previous three meetings this season and beat the Wolves 120-116 in overtime during their last meeting in Minneapolis on Dec. 22.
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin has reached plenty of milestones during his first four seasons in the NBA.
He reached another one on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors, 111-98. Griffin joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Barkley as the only players to have accumulated 6,000 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists while shooting at least 50 percent from the field.
"Wow, that's impressive," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I played against Kareem and Charles, and they are completely different. If three guys could be more different those three ... there is not anything that is similar about any of them. Which is amazing and it's another lesson that you can get things and do things similar in different ways."
Griffin had 30 points and 15 rebounds on the night, his franchise-best 24th straight game scoring at least 20 points. On the season, he is averaging a career-best 24.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
"It just tells you how great Blake is," Rivers said. "He's awful young to be reaching milestones."
How it happened: The Warriors controlled the game from the end of the second quarter to the end of the third quarter before the Clippers finally reclaimed the lead after a 15-3 run to end the third quarter. A couple of big put-back dunks by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan helped the Clippers control the momentum and the lead in the fourth quarter as the Clippers were able to hold on for the win.
What it means: The Clippers have won a season-high nine straight games, the longest active winning streak in the league. They also took a five-game lead over the Warriors in the Pacific Division and tied the season series at two games apiece. The win also increases their lead over the Houston Rockets for the third seed by a full game and gives them a 3½ game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clippers are only three games behind the top seed in the West and two games behind the No. 2 seed.
Hits: Aside from Griffin's performance, Chris Paul had 16 points and 12 assists, and Danny Granger came off the bench to score 18 points with six rebounds. Granger made his first six shots from the field. Willie Green also had 13 points off the bench.
Misses: Not many misses on the night although the Clippers would like to get Glen "Big Baby" Davis more involved heading into the playoffs. He had only two points on 1-of-3 shooting in 14 minutes off the bench.
Stat of the game: The Clippers had 19 second-chance points compared to only three for the Warriors. L.A. also had 21 fast-break points compared to only 15 for Golden State.
Up next: The Clippers are off Thursday before traveling to Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz. The Clippers won their first two games against the Jazz and their most recent encounter, 102-87, in Los Angeles.
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.
After Monday’s 112-105 win over the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers sit as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, mere percentage points behind the third-seeded Houston Rockets.
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.
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.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have a better cumulative home record than the Clippers, who have sold out 126 straight games.
“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.”
LOS ANGELES -- The faces in the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room have changed a lot since the last time the team played and lost to the Atlanta Hawks back in December.
Back then, the Clippers didn't have Danny Granger, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Hedo Turkoglu -- three players L.A. is counting on to breathe new life into its second unit not only at the end of the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.
On Saturday, the Clippers didn't necessarily need their second unit to have a big night as every starter scored at least 12 points and the Clippers defeated the Hawks, 109-108, to win their seventh straight game and inch closer to home-court advantage in the first round.
But that trio and the second unit did help the Clippers take a 11-point lead in the fourth quarter that should have helped made the victory far less dramatic at the end.
"That stretch in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter with Danny, Willie Green and Hedo," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "That group, they stretched the lead and they got it to 11 and that was big for us."
How it happened: The Clippers had a hard time breaking away from the Hawks on Saturday. Atlanta led for most of the first half and at the break. The Hawks grabbed a four-point lead in the third quarter before the Clippers took control and didn't look back until the end of the game, when Atlanta nearly tied it at the end of regulation before Jeff Teague missed a free throw that essentially gave the Clippers the one-point win.
What it means: The Clippers have now won seven straight games and are virtually tied with the Houston Rockets for the third seed in the Western Conference. With the Clippers holding a 26-5 record at home, the best in the West, home court in as many rounds as possible come playoff time will be crucial.
Hits: Blake Griffin had 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists and now has scored at least 20 points in 22 straight games. Chris Paul had 19 points and 10 assists, his 32nd double-double of the season, and DeAndre Jordan had 13 points and 12 rebounds, his 33rd double-double of the season. Matt Barnes scored 17 points and Darren Collison had 12.
Misses: Jamal Crawford was expected back from a strained left calf, but he played less than 10 minutes in the first half and didn't play in the second. He missed both of his shots and finished with three points. Crawford is listed as day-to-day.
Stat of the game: The Clippers scored 60 points in the paint compared to 40 for the Hawks in a physical game during which the officials let the bigs go at it for most of the game.
Up next: The Clippers will take Sunday off before playing the Phoenix Suns on Monday. The Clippers and Suns have split their first two games this season with both teams winning on the other's home court. The Clippers came from behind to beat the Suns, 104-96, on Tuesday. The last time the Suns played the Clippers in L.A. they beat them 107-88.
It was shades of the old “Big Baby,” of when he was a role player and a glue guy for a Boston Celtics team that went to two NBA Finals in three seasons and beat the Lakers to win it all in 2008.
Davis wasn’t able to be that kind of player with the Orlando Magic, but when he got a call from Doc Rivers after negotiating a buyout from the team, he jumped at the chance to not only play for his former coach again, but to also once again be a role player on a contender.
“My role with Boston and not being there and not being in that role, you kind of miss it when you go to another team and you have to do other things other than what you do,” Davis said when he joined the Clippers. “Here I can just do what I do and it will be magnified and glorified as something important because we’re trying to win something bigger than self. It means a lot for me to be here right now.”
“It’s a special thing,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things you can’t really describe. You can’t really put your finger on it, but you feel it and it feels good, and I feel it it in the locker room. It’s a belief. It’s almost to the point of supernatural belief. We’re not only starting to believe but putting in the work. Now when you combine the two, you have a deadly combination of guys who can play the game the right way and are so athletic. You can mix athleticism and the right way of playing every time with a great coach like Doc -- the sky is the limit.”
Rivers stopped short of saying he had the same feeling about this Clippers team as he did about his 2008 Celtics, but said he does sense them turning the corner with fewer than 20 games left in the regular season, defensively in particular.
“You can feel us starting to believe in our defense and being in the rights spots,” said Rivers, in his first season as Clippers coach after nine in Boston. “What I like now is every time one of them is not there, they point at themselves right away, they know it. I would prefer them not to do that and to be there, but they’re getting there and they’re taking ownership when they don’t. If we defend, we can run. It’s tough to run when you’re taking the ball out of bounds.”
As good as the Clippers have been on offense -- they lead the league in scoring, with an average of 107.7 points per game -- everyone in the locker room continues to point to their defense as the big reason for their current win streak and for why they are within reach of a top-two seed in the West.
“It was our defense,” Paul said after Thursday’s victory. “That second unit, when they came in in the second quarter, it’s funny, we had a 15-point lead and they called a timeout, and Blake [Griffin] and I were at the scorer’s table and Blake and I actually asked Doc, ‘Could they stay in?’ because they were doing so well. We fed off that. We fed off that energy, and to start the second half we just kept the defensive pressure on them.”
The biggest improvement for the Clippers defensively has come from behind the arc. They have jumped from 26th in the NBA last season to first in 2013-14 in 3-point defense -- allowing opponents to shoot 32.6 percent, down more than 4 percentage points from a year ago.
“I think it’s three or four or five games in a row now, at some point our defense has kind of clicked on,” Rivers said. “That’s the difference really.”
If the Clippers can continue scoring the way they have and start to play the kind of defense Rivers has been preaching about since the start of the season, they might finally be rounding into the kind of contenders many predicted they would be. There are just less than six weeks left in the season, but perhaps for the first time, glimpses of a championship team are starting to come into sight.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Paul said. “Early in the season you say you don’t want to peak too early, but now we’re just building. We don’t want to get too high or too low -- we want to just keep getting better.”
The biggest difference between the last time the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns faced off in late December and their matchup Tuesday night was Blake Griffin's offensive evolution.
It was on display from the opening tip, when Griffin contributed to four of the Clippers' first five scoring possessions by either scoring or facilitating in the open court. It was also featured late, when the Clippers fed him on the block and he faced up and banked in a clutch jumper to help secure a 104-96 win over a scrappy Suns squad.
Arguably the second-biggest difference, however, was the promotion of Matt Barnes into the starting lineup.
Barnes, who has scored in double figures in nine of his past 12 games, was the key difference-maker, scoring a season-high 28 points (12-of-17 shooting, 4-of-7 on 3-pointers) and, more important, helping a disjointed Clippers offense tread water through the first three quarters.
"We just need to pick each other up," Barnes told Fox Sports Prime Ticket after the game. "It's not going to be Blake and Chris [Paul] every night. We've got a lot of weapons. ... We've just got to keep moving the ball and find what works for us."
What worked was a starters-heavy attack, as the entire starting lineup scored in double figures and played 37-plus minutes. The Clippers (42-20) had been mentioning for days that they sought payback against the Suns (35-25) for an embarrassing 107-88 loss at Staples Center on Dec. 30, and that's exactly what they got Tuesday.
How it happened: Los Angeles jumped out to a 22-14 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter, but it didn't last. Phoenix amped up its perimeter defense -- the Suns forced nine turnovers, including four from Paul -- and found its offensive touch to take a 55-44 lead into intermission.
But Barnes and Griffin combined to score 30 of the Clippers' 37 third-quarter points, and L.A. quickly built a 15-point lead in the beginning of the fourth. The Suns made a late run and cut the deficit to three, but the Clippers' defense and Griffin's jumper sealed the game.
What it means: With Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and Golden State all winning Tuesday, the Clippers badly needed a win to keep pace with the rest of the West. The rest of their week is less intense -- they play the Los Angeles Lakers as the road team Thursday and the Atlanta Hawks at home on Saturday -- but just as important.
Hits: Griffin had 22 points (9-of-18 shooting), five rebounds and six assists. Darren Collison chipped in with 18 points (6-of-10 shooting), five assists and three steals. DeAndre Jordan had 10 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
The Clippers held the Suns to 42.5 percent shooting in the second half.
L.A. shot 8-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Misses: Paul had five turnovers, which partially negated his 14 points and nine assists.
The Suns' bench outscored the Clippers' bench 37-12.
Among the newcomers, Danny Granger was missed his only shot in four minutes, and Glen Davis had nearly a foul every two minutes (four fouls in nine minutes).
Stat of the game: After turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, the Clippers had only five second-half turnovers.
Up next: The Clippers get a day off before facing the Lakers (21-39) on Thursday. Last time the two L.A. teams met, the Clippers obliterated their purple-and-gold rivals 123-87, the largest margin of victory in Clippers history.
He had signed his contract Friday afternoon, went through the team’s shootaround Saturday morning and was in uniform and on the court later that night.
That was when he was told he had to go back into the locker room and change out of his uniform.
The list, as is the case with many teams, was written out by a member of the public relations department and handed to Doc Rivers to sign.
When referee Bill Spooner spotted Granger in uniform on the court warming up, that’s when he informed the Clippers that Granger’s name was not circled on the active list and, therefore, he was not allowed to play in the game.
“The Granger thing was on me,” Rivers said. “My job is to the check it, so I’m going to have to pay a silly fine; our team instituted a silly fine, so they’re going to fine me. I don’t know what the amount will be, probably dinner. Fortunately, we didn’t need him tonight.”
The Clippers certainly didn’t need the services of their newest player on Saturday night, as they trounced the New Orleans Pelicans 108-76 and rested the starters in the fourth quarter.
It was the second time a Clippers new addition was forced to watch his first game with the team from the locker room instead of with his new teammates:
After Glen “Big Baby” Davis signed with the Clippers last week and was expected to make his debut against the Pelicans in New Orleans, he was told to sit out pending his taking a physical back in Los Angeles.
Regardless of their delayed debuts with the Clippers, the additions of Granger and Davis upgrades what had been a thin front line on the Clippers and gives the team two players that will also bolster a struggling second unit as it enters the stretch run of the regular season toward the playoffs.
Rivers hopes Granger, who was an All-Star in 2009, can at some point this season work his way into being the team’s starting small forward to allow Matt Barnes to go back to his more natural role of coming off the bench. Barnes was thrust into the starting lineup after the consistent struggles of Jared Dudley, who is experiencing the worst shooting season of his career.
“He hasn’t played a lot over the last couple of years, but I thought before the trade he was starting to round into shape and starting to make shots,” Rivers said of Granger. “What I see in him is length. He’s a long small forward who has the ability to add a different dimension to us. The way I look at it is we can have a post game at the 3 spot as well now, which would be nice for us. If gives us another dimension.
"He can stretch the floor, and he comes from a defensive organization that runs a lot of the stuff that we run, so I thought defensively he would be the easier fit of the guys that were out there. He’s still coming back from the injury, so he still needs more time and minutes, and we’re trying to do that.”
Granger was being pursued heavily by the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, the two teams that met in the 2013 NBA Finals and that have won a combined six titles since 1999. Ultimately, he selected the Clippers as the best fit for himself and his pursuit of winning his first title.
“I’ve always liked the style that Doc coaches,” Granger said. “I just think this is the team I can have the biggest impact on. They had a role that I could fill.
“The style of offense that they play is appealing, and I’m familiar with it. They run you to death and put up a lot of shots and alley-oops. It’s an exciting way to play, and that’s always intriguing, especially for an offensive player like myself.”
That Granger, like Davis, would spurn similar offers from established championship contenders to sign with the Clippers is another example of how far the franchise has come over the past three seasons -- with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Rivers giving the team a greater level of respect.
“The culture has changed tremendously,” Granger said. “When I train here in the offseason, a lot of us come to the Clippers facility, and it’s one of the newer facilities in the NBA and its state of the art. The culture has really changed. Bringing Doc here and C.P. and the best power forward in the game with Blake, it’s a winning culture now.”
Before the game, Granger was going over different aspects of the team and playbook with Darren Collison, who he played with Granger from 2010 to 2012 at Indiana.
“He can shoot the ball extremely well,” Collison said of Granger. “He’s one of the better scorers in the league when he’s playing a lot of minutes.
“Everything that he brings to the table is something that we need.”
Granger’s addition comes at a good time for the Clippers, who are going to be without J.J. Redick for the foreseeable future with a bulging disk in his lower back and Jamal Crawford for about a week with a strained left calf.
Despite playing in just 34 games since the 2011-12 season after knee surgery, Granger said he’s healthy and won’t be asked to carry a heavy load on the team.
“He’s a weapon offensively. He can score the ball several different ways, so that just gives us another guy and body we need; somebody that can defend and do all those things for us,” Griffin said. “The great thing is I don’t think we’re going to have to ask him to do too much too soon. Hopefully, he can kind of work his way into it and hit his stride by the time playoffs come.”
The Clippers look to be hitting that stride now as a team after winning four straight games, taking a four-game lead atop the Pacific Division and being just a game out of the third seed in the Western Conference. The addition of Granger, who will now make his debut Tuesday in Phoenix, will only benefit a team that looks to be getting stronger as they make their playoff push.
“I think Danny brings an edge, a confidence, and one thing about our league is you have to earn respect, and Danny has done that,” Paul said. “So with him on the court every night, I don’t care what his percentage is or what’s happened in the game; he is respected, and we were hoping he was going to get on the court with us tonight, but soon enough.
“I really like the way our team looks right now.”