Clippers hone in as playoffs, Warriors loom

LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers will tell you he doesn’t look at the standings posted in the Los Angeles Clippers locker room. He’ll joke that they are updated daily by the equipment manager and that his players never talk about it.

But with two games left in the regular season after Saturday’s 117-101 win over the Sacramento Kings, those standings and the start of the playoffs next week are clearly the only things the Clippers are focused on. Their third-place finish in the Western Conference standings is cemented, and their opponent in the first round -- the Golden State Warriors -- is essentially locked in as well.

"We’ve already started," Rivers said when asked when the Clippers will start planning for the Warriors. "We pretty much, in our opinion, felt like that's who we were going to play for the last week or two. But I don't know how much more attention you can pay to a team than you already do anyway. It is nice. You're preparing and I'm sure they're preparing for us. It's not anything with the players. It's more the looks and the film stuff that you can start cutting and getting ready."

A first-round matchup between the Clippers and Warriors would certainly not be void of history and storylines. While both teams are young and trying to change the culture of two historically downtrodden franchises, over the past two seasons, both teams have grown a disdain for each other that is sure to boil over during the course of a seven-game series.

"I don’t know if you guys know this, but Chris [Paul] has a unique ability of getting under people’s skin. I don’t know if you guys know that about him," deadpanned Kings coach Mike Malone, who was an assistant with the Warriors the previous two seasons and coached Paul with the New Orleans Hornets for a season before that. “It’s just a competitive series. My first two years there we were 5-3 against the Clippers, and this year it’s 2-2. Every game is hotly contested.

"You have two power forwards in David [Lee] and Blake [Griffin], and David is trying prove he’s an All-Star, which he is. You have Steph[en] Curry, who is emerging and no longer wants to be under Chris Paul’s shadow. He wants to show people what he can do. The playoffs is where rivalries are made. If they play each other in the first round, it will be a great series, and I’m sure a lot of emotions will be involved."

Since the beginning of training camp, Rivers has been asked to give almost daily progress reports on the Clippers. Does he like where they are, how good can they be and how far does he see them going? The truth is the Clippers aren’t the same team that broke camp in San Diego back in October, or even the same team that entered the new year. Since then, they’ve added veterans Hedo Turkoglu, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Danny Granger.

They’re still working back players who have missed time this season, such as J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, and continue to see the growth of players like Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

"I think with the additions, we’re better suited for [the playoffs]," Rivers said. "We have more guys. That doesn’t mean we play them all. You limit your rotations a little bit going into the playoffs. It doesn’t really matter because if a guy goes down or a guy’s not playing well, you don’t have a problem putting one of the other guys in. I do think the additions of Turk, Baby and Danny have helped this team and make us deeper and more versatile."

With Crawford’s return to the lineup Saturday from a left calf strain and Granger’s possible return next week from a left hamstring strain, the Clippers are on the verge of having a fully healthy roster for the first time this season. It’s something Rivers won’t likely jeopardize over the last two games of the season, a home-and-away back-to-back against the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It is a tough one because we have had all these days off," Rivers said. "I don’t understand the rest if you don’t need it. You do have to be very careful because we have had all these days off. You don’t want to lose your rhythm. So rest and rhythm go hand in hand. Right now, we’re pretty good with it. We have a back-to-back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if guys played limited minutes in one of those two games or no minutes, but we’ll see."

Rivers has been notorious this season for rarely practicing. The Clippers will never practice the day after a game, occasionally won’t the day before a game and sometimes skip game-day shootarounds altogether. Even though the Clippers have increased practices with two days off in between games recently -- which will often be the case during the playoffs -- Rivers isn’t using the increased practice time to add anything new to the Clippers’ playbook.

"We’re not going to come here with a whole new offense or anything like that," Rivers said. "I hope somebody that we play does because they won’t do it very well. We put antennas on every play and add something to a play here and there, and as the playoffs goes, you’ll do that. After Game 1, you’ll realize that they’re doing something that you can either take advantage of or they took advantage of you and you have to fix it."

With two games left in the season, the Clippers are no longer ignoring the standings that have been in the locker room since the beginning of the season. Instead, they are focusing on the start of the playoffs next week and continuing their journey that began six months ago.

"We pretty much know what we want to do at this point," Rivers said. "You’re just trying to fine-tune everything that you’ve done and you hope you’re ready and good enough when the playoffs start. But I don’t think we’re in discovery mode in terms of what we want to run, but I do think teams are always on that journey as a group."