LOS ANGELES – The Clippers clinched a spot in the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs almost three weeks ago, but their march toward the postseason still isn’t finished.
In their final four regular-season games, they’re chasing home-court advantage.
It won’t come easily.
After beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-95 Wednesday night at Staples Center and setting a franchise record with their 31st home victory of the season, the Clippers go on the road for three of their last four games.
They’ve already locked up the No. 4 seed in the conference, but if the Memphis Grizzlies, currently seeded fifth, finish with a better regular-season record, they would hold the home-court edge in a first-round playoff series against the Clippers.
That means every game matters.
“It’s very important,” guard Chris Paul said, “but like I’ve said all season long, during the regular season you have to build some type of identity on the road because even with home-court advantage you need to win a game on the road. We understand with the seeding right now, at some point we’re not going to have home-court advantage.
“We’d love to play here as much as possible, but I think we have a team where it doesn’t really matter.”
The Clippers have a 31-9 record at Staples and a 21-17 mark on the road. They’re one of only four teams in the conference with a winning road record, but they understand the importance of playing in front of a home crowd.
“In a perfect world, we want home-court throughout, but we understand no matter where we start, we’re going to have to win on the road,” Jamal Crawford said. “That’s just how it goes. So for us, it’s more about getting healthy and building momentum. We’re playing well at the right time. We just have to continue to finish out these last four games strong going into the playoffs.”
The Clippers now have won three games in a row after dropping three straight over a four-day period at the end of March and beginning of April. Their revival comes at an opportune time: They’re looking to build a good feeling as they make a rush toward improving their position in the conference.
“The past three games our defense has been really good,” Paul said. “For a while there, we were always a step late. We’re talking a lot more, and the energy has picked up. We’re still not perfect, but we’re headed in the right direction.
“I think we just said enough is enough. You get tired of losing, and we kept talking about (how) we don’t want to back into the playoffs. We realized that we controlled it. Nobody else does — not the coaches, not the media. We’re just trying to pick it up.”
The Clippers are still within shot of the No. 3 seed, but the Denver Nuggets’ win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday kept them two games ahead of the Clippers. And the Clippers’ closing act won’t be easy. They play back-to-backs Friday and Saturday on the road at New Orleans and Memphis, then finish with another back-to-back next week at home against Portland and at Sacramento.
Their game against the Grizzlies on Saturday could be what determines whether they’ll have home-court advantage when the playoffs start. At the very least, they’re watching the other teams closely.
“Are we watching?” DeAndre Jordan asked. “Yeah, we watch a lot of games, and those are teams that are ahead of us right now, so we want to stay on our toes and keep building our momentum, and everything will work itself out.”