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The Ball is In Your Court, Doc

Doc Rivers’ fingerprints are all over the Clippers. Will Rivers’ team live up to postseason expectations?

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There may not be any reinforcements coming for the Los Angeles Clippers, as it appears the team has missed out on the preferred veteran buyout players just on the heels of remaining inactive at last week’s trade deadline.

The lack of deadline moves was far from a surprise given that veteran shooting guard Jamal Crawford was their best (if not only) movable asset, but there had been rumors about significant interest in players like Tayshaun Prince (who was eventually traded to Detroit), Andrei Kirilenko (who returned overseas to play in Russia), Kendrick Perkins (who signed with Cleveland, but admitted it was tough to turn down Doc Rivers).

Not only would moving Crawford likely have disrupted team chemistry, but there probably wasn’t a realistic scoring threat available to offset what they would lose in terms of the offensive productivity the 15-year-veteran provides. Our own Alex Kennedy caught up with a very confident-sounding Crawford just yesterday, as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year made it clear he still believes the Clippers can be title contenders as they currently stand.

While some would certainly beg to differ simply due to how deep and treacherous the Western Conference playoff race will undoubtedly be, these players may have simply accepted the reality of their circumstances. They’ve managed to endure Blake Griffin’s absence over the past seven games (4-3) led by some head-turning performances from soon-to-be free agent DeAndre Jordan as well as timely contributions and impressive outings from several other players (including Crawford) along the way.

To Rivers’ credit, as head coach and president of basketball operations, he seems to be at peace with the roster as well. At least, that’s what he was selling to ESPN’s Arash Markazi when asked about the matter on Wednesday.

“We like our team,” Rivers told Markazi. “We actually like our basketball team, and if we could add something that can help, we would. What people don’t understand is chemistry is so freaking important. Unless it’s someone you think is really going to change your team, this team was a couple bad plays in Game 6 away from the Western Conference Finals last year.”

Not to discredit the validity of Rivers’ sentiments – as chemistry in sports is absolutely imperative – but there is a discernible difference between “liking” your team and failing to address some of the very roster concerns and issues that (at the very least) have contributed to this team not being able to prevail when it matters most over the past few seasons.

The offense (106.9 PPG) hasn’t skipped a beat this year, and really doesn’t look much different in terms of output even with Griffin’s recent absence. The trouble for these Clippers is that they have yet to display the type of consistent defensive effort and unified intensity some of Rivers’ previous teams have leaned upon as a foundation. Beyond being ranked just 19th overall in terms of total team defensive efficiency, according to TeamRankings.com, they also surrender 100.9 PPG to opponents, which is just 10th in the Western Conference and last among teams currently in playoff spots. They are the sixth-best team in terms of limiting opponent’s points in the paint (39.5 PPG), but do allow the fourth-most made three-pointers (8.5 per game) which is second to only Dallas (and tied with Atlanta) in terms of the most surrendered by teams currently in the postseason mix.

Perhaps the most troubling trend is the fact that this team is just 14-13 on the road thus far. Although they’d be headed to Houston for what appears to be a somewhat favorable matchup with the Rockets (11-2 vs. Houston in recent years), the Clippers are just two games back of the fourth-seeded Blazers in the loss column with a final stretch of 24 games that features nine potential showdowns with fellow Western Conference playoff foes.

While it certainly isn’t impossible to win on the road in the postseason and the Clippers have absolutely dominated the Rockets since 2012, this is clearly a team that plays better within the comfy confines of Staples Center just as most (if not all) home teams tend to do. Plus, do you really want to tempt fate by opening your postseason at Toyota Center against a legitimate MVP candidate in James Harden and a potentially-rested and revitalized Dwight Howard if you can avoid it?

Hypothetical scenarios aside, the Clippers realize there are no easy paths to the Finals. Certainly not out West. They may not have been able to do quite as much as preferred on the trade market or buyout market, but they seem pretty content with they have. Aside from any lingering concerns over Griffin’s elbow, which is expected to have the five-time All-Star out of commission for at least another week, the team’s biggest question remains whether Rivers can find just the right combinations from what has become a bit of a hodgepodge mix of talent.

In a perfect example of ‘making your own bed,’ the dual-hatted Rivers probably has more to do with the current assortment of players he is leading than any other head coach not named Stan Van Gundy (who’s also in charge of personnel in Detroit). While ‘Entourage’ fans can tell you the potential pitfalls of giving “final cut” to a director, Rivers could certainly go a long way in at least silencing those of us that question the practice of granting a head coach full autonomy (or “final say”) when it comes to the roster by finding a way to finally get this team to live up to expectations in April, May and perhaps even June.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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