Whatever chances the Los Angeles Clippers had of ruffling the feathers of the Los Angeles Lakers by hanging a Pacific Division championship banner up at Staples Center likely died Thursday in Phoenix.
The Suns’ 93-90 win over the Clippers not only kept the Suns’ playoff hopes alive but probably ended any hopes the Clippers had of overtaking the Lakers for the Pacific title. The Lakers are now one game up with the tie-breaker in-hand so the Clippers would essentially have to make up two games with only three games left in the season.
Stranger things have happened but with Kobe Bryant coming back for the Lakers on Friday and the Clippers finishing the season with back-to-back games on the road against the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, it doesn’t look likely.
Now, Lakers fans may still be scoffing at the notion that the Clippers would dare hang up a banner as meaningless as a Pacific Division title at Staples Center but they may have missed the fact that the Los Angeles Kings, who haven’t won Stanley Cup, have a division and conference championship banner hanging up in the rafters.
The Clippers have been itching for any reason to hang up a banner, a jersey, anything at Staples Center since 1999 and this was their chance, whether the Lakers’ fans think its legitimate or not.
Although the Clippers probably won’t overtake the Lakers in the Pacific this season, Chris Paul has changed the culture surrounding the Clippers so much that it’s impossible not to hear a Buffalo Braves reference during a Clippers game or read it in a story this season because you really do have to go all the way back to the Braves to find a time when the franchise was this good.
Not only have the Clippers won 13 of 16 games but they have are 16-15 on the road this season and are attempting to finish the season with a .500 or better road record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
This season Paul has helped the Clippers end long road losing streaks in Denver (9 straight losses), Utah (16), Orlando (9), San Antonio (17), Dallas (10) and nearly added Phoenix to the list, but will have to wait until next season to snap a losing streak that hit 10 on Thursday.
With their next win, the Clippers will clinch the best winning percentage in franchise history which was previously held by, you guessed it, the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves (.598). It would also go a long way in clinching the No. 4 seed in the West, which would give the Clippers home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, likely against the Memphis Grizzlies
All the numbers and statistics the Clippers have put up this season, however, can’t replicate or make up for the fact that many key players on the Clippers such as Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe have no playoff experience. Thursday’s game in Phoenix, however, was a perfect example of the kind of playoff atmosphere and intensity they will face next month.
“The playoffs are a whole different level,” Del Negro said this week. “It will be different for some of the guys that haven't been through it. Guys think they're ready, but they're not. It will be a different level.”
The biggest lesson Paul said he will try to instill in his teammates about the playoffs is having a short memory. Every win and every loss should be forgotten the moment the game is over until one team accumulates four wins. With three games left in the season, the Clippers have already had the greatest regular season in franchise history, but Paul knows all of that will be about as meaningless as a Pacific Division championship banner in Los Angeles once the playoffs finally start.