It was an historic week for the Los Angeles Clippers. Even before they played last Monday, they had clinched their first playoff spot in six seasons, and only their fifth since moving to California and adopting the Clippers name, 34 seasons ago. By the end of the week the team had won enough games to assure them of their best regular season in franchise history, even encompassing their beginnings as the Buffalo Braves. Even if they lose their final two regular season games this week, the Clippers will finish with a winning percentage better than .600 for the first time ever. Of course none of that will matter when the playoffs start, but there's little question that the first regular season of the Chris Paul era has been a resounding success.
The Clippers are closing the regular season strong, which is how the team wants to head into the postseason. They are now 14-3 since March 23. In those same 31 days, the Bulls (six losses), Heat (seven), Lakers (six) and Thunder (six) have all lost at least twice as many games as the Clippers. Only the San Antonio Spurs have been hotter over the last month.
|Field Goal %:||45.1%|
|True Shooting %:||54.4%|
|Effective FG %:||50.6%|
|Monday: Clippers 92, Thunder 77|
|Wednesday: Clippers 104, Nuggets 98|
|Thursday: Suns 93, Clippers 90|
|Saturday: Clippers 107, Hornets 98|
Unfortunately, while their run of strong play has guaranteed them a playoff spot, it has not yet guaranteed them home court advantage. The Clippers remain in fourth place, a half game behind the Lakers and a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies. When the Lakers beat Oklahoma City on Sunday, it probably ended the Clippers hopes of passing their intracity rivals for the Pacific Division title and the three seed. But Memphis has been almost as hot as the Clippers while playing an incredibly soft schedule to close the season. With two games left for each team, the Clippers magic number for clinching the four seed (and with it home court advantage in a first round series with the Grizzlies) stands at one -- one more LAC win, or one more Memphis loss, and the Clippers will have home court.
Last week started off with a bang for the Clippers. The mighty Thunder visited STAPLES Center looking to avenge a last second loss in Oklahoma City just five days prior. The Thunder started strong and built an 11 point lead early in the second quarter and led by nine at halftime. But the Clippers dominated from the first possession of the second half. They opened the half with a 9-1 run to erase most of the deficit, and ended up winning the game by 15. They outscored the Thunder 49-25 in the second half, keeping Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook under wraps the entire time.
The Clippers then went on the road against two tough Western Conference foes each fighting for their playoff lives. In Denver Wednesday night, Kenyon Martin tormented his former team with two huge plays within seconds of each other. He tipped in Chris Paul's miss for the go ahead points with 27 seconds remaining, and then blocked Ty Lawson's layup a few seconds later to preserve the victory.
The next night in Phoenix the Clippers did not get the benefit of last second heroics. Instead, they surrendered a fourth quarter lead, and were unable to convert on a crucial possession trailing by one with less than ten seconds remaining. But that game will be remembered less for the Clippers loss than it will be for the Flagrant Foul 2 called on Robin Lopez when he hit Blake Griffin on the head and neck as Griffin was going in for a layup. Lopez was ejected, but the play changed the momentum of the game in Phoenix's favor -- a disquieting precedent if the NBA is truly concerned about protecting players.
The Clippers concluded their regular season home schedule with a Sunday evening win over the New Orleans Hornets. As bad as the Clippers were in the third quarter which they lost 17-32, they more than made up for it with a dominant fourth quarter which they won 33-14. With that final home win, the Clippers concluded their home season 24-9, selling out each and every game.
For all the good work they've done this season, the Clippers could still have to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs -- something they clearly do not want to do against a Memphis team that has a losing record on the road. They shouldn't expect any favors from the Grizzlies, who have home games remaining against the tanking Cavaliers and the Dwight Howard-less Magic, so the Clippers need to win one of their remaining two games, Tuesday against the Hawks in Atlanta, or Wednesday against the Knicks in New York.
And then the real fun begins.
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