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What the Los Angeles Clippers Must Do

The L.A. Clippers cannot afford to be defined by their owner’s ignorant comments, and that fact should fuel a deep playoff run.

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The last thing an NBA team wants during the playoffs is any kind of distraction that takes their focus away from the task at hand. Unlike the regular season, the playoffs pit a squad against one single team in a best-of-seven series in which it takes elite talent and incredible performances to overcome an opponent that is thinking solely about how to beat them. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in the middle of one of the worst distractions possible as they try to go about the business of possibly competing for a championship.

The NBA world is buzzing about the alleged recording of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in which he expresses racist sentiments that really defy adequate condemnation. No matter how disgusting those comments are, however, the Clippers themselves cannot afford to get caught up in responding and reacting to them right now.

They must remain focused on the task at hand.

This might just be the best Clippers team to ever take the court, and they got healthy and found their chemistry at just the right time. They claimed the third seed in the West despite suffering wide-ranging injuries over the course of the season and before their owner’s comments were made public, they were in the process of dismantling the Golden State Warriors, their first round opponents.

As the media sticks microphones in the face of anyone even loosely associated with the NBA to get a reaction to Sterling’s stupidity, how is his team supposed to navigate the turbulent waters back at home?

They must ignore it.

An elite team gets to be elite by cultivating an exceptional locker room environment that makes them very much like a family. They lean on each other for advice and support, just as they learn to trust and rely on each other on the basketball court. Head coach Doc Rivers has to pull his team together, remind them who and what they are playing for, and make them completely tune out Sterling’s stinging words and the response it has evoked from the controversy-starved media.

Chris Paul is having an outstanding run, reminding people who had forgotten that when he is healthy he is an MVP candidate. Blake Griffin took Paul’s preseason challenge to heart and is having the best season of his career. DeAndre Jordan has been dominant on the glass and on the defensive end. Jamal Crawford has been one of the best bench players in the league again and the supporting cast around that group has been solid. In short, the Clippers have a special combination that just might be looking at the opportunity of a lifetime.

The San Antonio Spurs are on the ropes against the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies are giving the Oklahoma City Thunder all they can handle. By the end of the week, both Western Conference frontrunners could be out, leaving the Clippers as the most likely team to ascend to the NBA Finals. With the universal tumblers apparently working so hard in favor of the Clippers, they can’t afford to allow ignorant comments from their owner to derail their season.

There can be no confusion in the ranks for the Clippers as they take the court for Game 5 on Tuesday night. They have to be a unified group, playing for each other and for their fans, tuning absolutely everything else out. If they can do that, they have a chance to do something special, something that will define who they are as a team for years to come.

They certainly don’t want to be defined by anything else.

Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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