PORTLAND, Ore. -- As Matt Barnes sat in a nearly empty locker room for what turned out to be Wednesday's meaningless regular-season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers, he wasn't entirely focused on the opponent at hand as tip-off neared.
"I want to play Golden State," Barnes said. "I think that's everybody's mindset. They've been asking for us and we're on a course to see each other. ... You got to be careful what you want and what you wish for. The good thing is it's going to happen. There's no need to really talk or get into it or get them anymore fired up. The playoffs are here now and this is what everybody has waited eight months for."
Most of the Los Angeles Clippers players and coaches were tracking the Oklahoma City Thunder-Detroit Pistons game before the start of their game. If the Pistons beat the Thunder, the Clippers would be playing for the No. 2 seed with a rag-tag group that lacked Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick, who were left back in Los Angeles for various reasons. If the Thunder won, the Clippers would be locked into the No. 3 seed and would play the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
While most of the Clippers will say publically they didn't care who they played, the truth is the Clippers wanted to play the Warriors. It's the one team they dislike the most in the league and the one team they most wanted to see in the postseason.
"It's going to be the best first-round series," Barnes said. "It's been a knock-down, drag-out affair for past two years. It's two of the best offenses in the league and two of the most exciting teams in the league. They wanted it and we wanted it, let's do it."
On Wednesday, Portland took a 22-point lead on the Clippers' reserves before L.A. stormed back to take a six-point lead before eventually falling 110-104. None of that mattered to coach Doc Rivers when he entered the locker room after the game and told his players and coaches, "Now the real basketball starts."
Rivers downplayed the rivalry when he was asked about playing the Warriors after the game, but admitted there is something different when the two teams take the court.
"You know what it is? They want to beat us and we want to beat them," Rivers said. "We're in their way and they're in our way and somebody has got to get out of the way. I've been saying it for a while, Portland, us and Oklahoma, we're all the young teams and we're trying to make our day. We're trying to jump up there and we won't want the other ones to do it. It's simple. Is there something there? Who cares? They're in our way and we're in theirs, and at the end of the day somebody's got to move."
While Rivers was supposed to focus on the Thunder-Pistons before the game, he spent much of the pregame watching the game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, playing to decide the seventh and eighth seeds. It was a back-and-forth overtime battle that further showed how tough the Western Conference playoffs will be.
"It's a hard, hard way to go," Rivers said. "But at the end of the day I tell our guys, 'If you want to be the winner it can't be easy. It's not going to be easy. Let's embrace it.'"
The Clippers have embraced it since their season ended last year at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies after four straight losses to erase a 2-0 L.A. series lead. It's the reason the team parted ways with coach Vinny Del Negro after a record-breaking season and pried Rivers away from the Boston Celtics.
There's a feeling that Rivers' experience will be enough to get the talented Clippers over the hump now, but Rivers is quick to point out that his experiences and successes are not the same as those of the Clippers. This is a new team and a clean slate.
"Every group is new," Rivers said. "We're new with each other and we're going on our own new journey together. At the end of the day you have to go out there and attack it. ... The experience is what they're going to experience. I can't experience it for them. As a team, we can but we have to do it together."
While Rivers says he thinks he knows what kind of team he has, he'll be the first to admit he won't truly know what kind of team he has until the playoffs start. All his coaching and stories over the past six months will ultimately be judged by how they play from this moment forward.
"I'm just telling them what we need to do as a group," Rivers said. "I don't even worry about their inexperience. My experience, I don't know how much that helps them. I really don't. At the end of the day it's still basketball. I swear it is. It's not going to be any different. They're not going to put different obstacles out on the floor. There's going to be five other players out there and you just have to go out there and do your job."
The Clippers will open the playoffs Saturday afternoon against the Warriors. It's the matchup they both wanted but if the Clippers' playoff run is going to last longer than one round this time, Rivers knows the they still have room to grow.
"We need to become a great team," Rivers said. "We've become great individuals. That's not going to win for you. For us, it's about learning how to trust each other to be great team. That's the learning curve we're on right now. You have to sacrifice to be a great team."