Tough loss, but Rivers knows better

LOS ANGELES -- Almost 10 months after arriving in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers still isn't exactly sure what kind of team he has with the Los Angeles Clippers.

His uncertainty has absolutely nothing to do with Wednesday's 107-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The loss to him was nothing more than a minor blip in a season-long constellation that won't get him any closer to the answer he is looking for.

"I like these games, but ... it's one of 82, and the meaning isn't going to go further than tonight," Rivers said.

No, his uncertainty comes from the fact that the playoffs are totally different than the regular season. There are some teams that look great in the regular season, win 50-plus games, put together double-digit winning streaks and win the division long before the end of the season. The Clippers did all of the above last season and have done all of the above this season, and he knows none of that will matter one week from now.

"I think we're good enough to win it," Rivers said. "But I still don't know our team until we get to the playoffs, as far as how we're going to react or how other teams will react. The regular season is great and it prepares you and you get a better idea of where you are, but it's still another emotional level in the playoffs, and we didn't make it past the first round [last year], so we have to do that first before we think of anything."

Rivers knows the players on his team, the system he wants them to run and the identity he wants them to have. He knows all of this, but he will be the first to admit that knowing all of that doesn't mean much.

"The playoffs are different," Rivers said. "There's better preparation. There's more single game focus. No matter how big this game was, we have more games and they have more games. They had no time to prepare for it for the most part. We had one day to prepare for it. When you have three days to prepare for one team and you know you're going to have that one team, hopefully, for the four games you're going to win, and it could go seven, it's going to be different. Guys can focus better when it's just one opponent."

Rivers won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and was one win away from winning another one in 2010. He knows what it takes to win a championship and have a long postseason run, but he had that success with a group of players who are no longer with him. While many are expecting Rivers to be the difference for the Clippers when the postseason starts, there is only so much he can do.

"I've never been to the playoffs with them," Rivers said. "I have zero experience in a lot of ways with this group. I think we all know as a group who we are, but you still really don't know. The playoffs have to unfold."

The uncertainty and the questions, however, are only natural.

Rivers would be lying if he said he knew how the Clippers would respond to adversity in the playoffs. Since the start of training camp, Rivers has been asked if he has liked where the team is and if the players are where he expected them to be.

It’s the type of question he usually shrugs off because they will never fully be where he wants them to be until they reach their ultimate goal at the end of the playoffs.

"You grow during the playoffs," Rivers said. "If you think going into the playoffs, that's the best you're going to be, you're nuts. You really are. If you think when the playoffs start, let's stop improving, that's who we are, that's nuts. I've not seen a team like that. Teams grow through the playoffs, and we will. ... At the end of the day, we'll be ready when the playoffs start."

Wednesday wasn't a playoff game, but it essentially locked up the No. 2 seed for Oklahoma City, which means the Clippers will be the No. 3 seed. That could become a factor in the second round of the playoffs if the Clippers and Thunder meet again.

"I'd like to have it," Rivers said of home-court advantage. "I think with this team it's more important than the teams I had in Boston, just because of experience. The first year in Boston, in 2008, it was really important for us, and then each year after that it became less important."

Rivers has already begun to emphasize the importance of winning on the road during the playoffs to the Clippers. Home-court advantage comes and goes in the playoffs, and the Clippers realize there will be no easy opponents in the Western Conference if they are to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

"We're going to have to play three tough teams to get to the Finals no matter what seed we are," Blake Griffin said. "If we were 1 or we were 8, we would have to play some tough teams home and away."