The Clippers continue to be on the outside looking in. They currently reside in ninth place in the NBA’s Western Conference. The team is one game back of the Denver Nuggets for the eight seed and another trip to the playoffs. With only so many games remaining, Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers spoke about how every game matters and explained why he was worried about a recent match-up with the Phoenix Suns, who have been well out of contention for some time.
“So, right now, again, every game is big. Phoenix game was big for us,” Rivers stated before going on to explain why. “We played well against Golden State but lost and we didn’t want to lose another one. Phoenix was sitting there with three days of practice, four days of practice. A whole week of, waiting for us. You know, we came out and put the game to bed in five minutes. That was nice.”
Of the remaining 24 games, 10 are against teams that the Clippers are battling for a playoff spot and playoff positioning. The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are locked in as the top two seeds. Ignoring those two teams and the non-contenders in the western conference, the six other spots (three through eight) are realistically being contested by eight teams.
These 10 games include the other teams competing for the postseason. The Clippers play the Nuggets twice (currently the eighth seed), the New Orleans Pelicans twice (currently sixth seed), Portland Trailblazers twice (currently fifth seed), Oklahoma City Thunder (currently seventh seed), San Antonio Spurs (currently third seed), the Minnesota Timberwolves (currently fourth seed) and the Utah Jaz (currently 10th seed).
Rivers also spoke about the team’s focus and the importance of these match-ups with other similarly situated western conference competitors.
“It adds [importance] because they are one of the teams [ahead of the Clippers]. It doesn’t matter if they are behind us or ahead. Utah is behind us, that’s going to be a big game,” Rivers stated at yesterday’s team practice.
Rivers admits that due to the high level of competition for playoff seeding that these games are critical and smartly points out that the team needs to be wary of the Jazz who are the NBA’s hottest team since the return of center Rudy Gobert.
Playoffstatus.com currently projects the Clippers as having 46 percent chance of making the playoffs. This is no guarantee but the percentages show that the team could potentially capture the seventh or eighth seed.
With the playoffs no certainty, Clippers forward Tobias Harris confirmed the obvious need to be locked in and take each game seriously.
“At this point every game is important. We have to lock in every single time,” Harris stated.
Despite the pressure that comes with being in this position, Rivers made it clear he doesn’t try to push his players harder at a moment like this.
“You don’t push them any more than you push them. What we got to do, just the execution and make sure they have the right mental focus. We’ve been there though. For the most part, our guys have had that. I don’t think we’re doing anything really different than just trying to win the game,” Rivers stated.
Rivers also spoke about the players’ mindset and how they approach these critical games.
“I think the players feel like they have to play the game the same way to win the game so there’s no change in the way they play,” Rivers said. “The one thing we do anyway is play hard. That helps. That probably helps more than anything.”
Harris confirmed what Rivers sees as far as effort on the court.
“We have to be consistent with our effort,” Harris said.
Harris went on to exude confidence and made it clear that the Clippers can win any game.
“We’ve shown we can play with the best of them. And we’re a very good team when we’re at our best. So, we just got to do more of the same and expect that out of each other,” Harris stated.
The Clippers have to stay focused and be at their best. The Jazz and Clippers both think they can work their way into the playoff picture. Other teams will have to fall by the wayside for that to happen. The remaining games, especially the match-ups with other playoff seed contenders will be critical.
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