The Los Angeles Clippers are ever-so-close to clinching their first playoff berth in six seasons, only their fifth in their 28 year history in Los Angeles. Although it is still mathematically possible that the Clippers could miss the playoffs, just one more Clippers win (or one more loss for the Phoenix Suns, or a whole bunch of other permutations) will guarantee a trip to the postseason, the first ever for about half the roster including the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. And the Clippers are headed into the playoffs the way every team wants to -- playing their best basketball of the season.
The malaise that enveloped the team in February and March and led to rumors of discord in the locker room and a coach on thin ice is long since past. The Clippers have won 11 of their last 13 games, including some impressive victories. The team is currently on pace to finish the season with the highest winning percentage in franchise history -- that includes the seasons in Buffalo and San Diego. They also have a winning record on the road, another first for the team if they can maintain it. Most importantly, they are well-positioned to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
|Field Goal %:||46.0%|
|True Shooting %:||52.7%|
|Effective FG %:||50.6%|
|Monday: Grizzlies 94, Clippers 85|
|Wednesday: Clippers 100, Thunder 98|
|Thursday: Clippers 95, Wolves 82|
|Saturday: Clippers 112, Warriors 104|
But they're not there yet. As of Sunday night, the Clippers remain a game and a half behind the Lakers, who have won four straight themselves even in the absence of Kobe Bryant. It won't be easy catching the other L.A. team for the Pacific Division title, since the Lakers own the season series tie breaker. Looking the other direction in the standings, the Clippers are now two full games ahead of the fifth-place Memphis Grizzlies, and in this case it is the Clippers who own the tie breaker. So as long as the Clippers don't lose three games in the standings to the Grizzlies over the final six, they'll have home court advantage in the first round.
The week started off badly in terms of the playoff race. Playing in Memphis against the red hot Grizzlies, the Clippers were lethargic for most of the game and fell behind by 17 early in the fourth quarter. A furious rally cut the deficit to three points with just under a minute to play, but the Clippers were unable to complete the comeback. That loss left the two teams tied in the loss column, with Memphis seemingly facing the easier remaining schedule.
A couple night's later, the Clippers faced the best team in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road. With Memphis breathing down their necks, a loss to the Thunder would have swapped the order of the standings, and with it home court advantage in the first round. But the Clippers kept the game close for three quarters, and Chris Paul put the team on his back and carried them to victory in the fourth. Paul scored 9 of the Clippers final 11 points, including what proved to be the game-winning layup with eight seconds remaining.
With that huge win over the Thunder the Clippers maintained their fourth place position in the standings, and began to solidify it. As Memphis lost a couple of games, the Clippers easily handled short-handed teams in Minnesota and at home against Golden State. The team also returned to the full strength for the first time in several weeks, as Mo Williams returned to the lineup after missing 11 straight games with a sprained toe.
There's still work to do done. The Clippers have six games remaining, including four on the road against playoff teams. Of their two remaining home games, one is tonight against the Thunder, who will no doubt be seeking a measure of revenge. A 4-2 finish over these final six games will ensure the Clippers of no worse than the fourth seed, regardless of what Memphis does in their six games (against decidedly weaker competition). Anything less than that leaves home court advantage in play.
As well as the Clippers have played over the past three weeks, they still need to put together two more solid weeks of basketball to head into the postseason strong.
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