DENVER -- There’s a painted game ball that rests in the trophy case of the Los Angeles Clippers’ facility celebrating the team’s 17-game winning streak last season.
When your history is as star-crossed as the Clippers’ has been, you hang on to those kinds of moments.
Last season’s win streak was ballyhooed by signs on the JumboTron after games and congratulatory visits in the locker room by Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who infamously led them in a cringe-inducing hip, hip, hooray.
Last season’s 17-game streak ended on the road against the Denver Nuggets, as did the Clippers’ 11-game winning streak on Monday.
That is perhaps the only similarity the two runs share.
While last season’s string was celebrated like a playoff streak, this season's was more of a footnote.
No one that was in the Clippers’ locker room last season was about to celebrate a regular-season winning streak this time around. Not after the 2012-13 campaign ended with a first-round defeat and four straight losses at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in a 4-2 series. That’s the only streak that still sticks with them.
“It’s really how you’re playing come playoff time,” Blake Griffin said. “Winning streaks are great. You could win 25 in a row and still be out in the first round. To be honest, we didn’t really talk about the streak or think about the streak that much; it wasn’t really a big thing for us.
“The biggest thing for us is how we’re playing, and I think that’s a great sign. It’s a sign of maturity for our team.”
Doc Rivers didn’t really make it a point not to talk about the streak with his team. He claims it never really came out. It wasn’t important to the players and it certainly wasn’t important for him.
It has never been about regular-season winning streaks for Rivers. He has always been far more concerned with how his team is playing rather than extending a streak that won’t mean much come playoff time.
Griffin was struggling with his shot on Monday night, despite finishing with 26 points and 12 rebounds. He hit just 7-for-25 and was hesitating far too often.
At halftime, Rivers looked at Griffin and said, “I don’t care if you go 0-for-40.” He then looked at Chris Paul and said, “I don’t care if you go 0-for-40.”
His message was that the Clippers will only go as far as Griffin and Paul take them. And he can’t have either, and certainly not both of them, hesitating or unsure of themselves.
“I told Blake that I don’t care,” Rivers said. “Just keep shooting and playing with confidence. I think that is good for our team sometimes. You’re not going to be great every night offensively. Your offense is going to fail you some nights. But, there are other ways to win and help the team.”
It’s an attitude Griffin knows that he has to have but still is adjusting to on nights his shot isn’t falling consistently.
“I struggle with that a little bit, because you don’t want to put your team in a bad situation,” Griffin said. “But you go to have the mindset that the next one is going in. That’s what I got to get to.”
Paul, who stayed for close to an hour after Wednesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors to work on his shot, said he understood what Rivers was telling Griffin and him. While Paul was sidelined for 20 games this season, he said he realized how much he needed Griffin to succeed and how they need each other if the Clippers are to get past the first few rounds in the playoffs this season.
“I’ve been struggling,” Paul said. “Shoot, I had a couple wide-open looks that I didn’t knock down. It’s funny that yesterday Blake was on me to keep shooting and tonight I got the chance to put my arm around him and tell him to keep shooting.
“When it gets down to crunch time in the playoffs, it’s going to come down to me and him. I think it’s great that we talk about it, but we have to keep our confidence up.”
Paul was adamant that the streak didn’t mean anything while the Clippers were in the midst of it. He was even more adamant after it was snapped. He was more focused on how the Clippers were going to get better during their four-day break before playing their next game on Saturday at home against the Detroit Pistons.
“We realize that it doesn’t matter,” Paul said. “A team like ours, we want to do well and get our seeding right in the regular season. But we had a 17-game winning streak last year and we were out in the first round of the playoffs.”
It’s not the Clippers don’t want to enjoy long winning streaks during the regular season, it’s that they want to put something more important than a game ball commemorating those winning streaks in their trophy case at season’s end.
“There’s definitely been a mindset change around here,” Paul said.