LOS ANGELES – There’s one game left in the Clippers’ regular season, but don’t think it doesn’t have meaning.
It does. In a big way.
The Clippers still haven’t assured themselves of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but they can do that Wednesday night with a win in Sacramento. And they still have an outside shot at the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, although they’ll need some help to secure that spot.
Bottom line: Their 93-77 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on Tuesday night was a rousing home finale, but their work isn’t quite done.
“We did what we needed to do tonight,” coach Vinny Del Negro said, and although he was talking about the game, he also could have been talking about playoff positioning.
Here’s where the Clippers stand:
They’ll be guaranteed home-court advantage if the Memphis Grizzlies, who play at home against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, lose – a result that should just about be over by the time the Clippers take the court in Sacramento at 7:30 p.m. PT
Even if the Grizzlies win, the Clippers would still hold home court by beating the Kings, who might be playing their last game in Sacramento.
If the Denver Nuggets lose at home to the Phoenix Suns – an unlikely occurrence given the Nuggets’ 37-3 home record and the Suns’ woeful record – and the Clippers beat the Kings, the Clippers would take over the third seed in the playoffs.
Those are all scenarios the Clippers will face today. After beating the Blazers and winning their sixth consecutive game, they were feeling confident and in control.
Guard Chauncey Billups came back after an eight-game absence resulting from a groin injury and provided a soothing presence despite missing all five shots he took. Caron Butler, though, looked fully recovered from a sore right knee that limited him to nine minutes Saturday night at Memphis. He scored 18 points in the third quarter and 22 for the game, hitting 9 of 14 shots.
“I think that we’ve finally turned a corner,” forward Matt Barnes said. “We were struggling a little bit for a few weeks, and I just think that it was a lack of energy, the long season and the guys being in and out. We’ve realized what a special team we have.
“We’ve turned that corner and have definitely put it in playoff mode.”
Staying healthy will make a difference. Billups has been largely missing in action this season, rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, then suffering through tendinitis in his left foot and the groin injury. But no one minimizes his importance in the playoffs if he survives another setback. He won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons and was the NBA Finals MVP in 2004.
“Chaunce being back definitely helps,” Chris Paul said. “I think there were a lot of possessions tonight where we really executed. I really got excited. We ran some of our actions to perfection and really paid attention to detail because that’s what you have to do in the playoffs.”
If nothing else, Billups looked in prime form in the third quarter, bouncing a pass between his legs on the break to Blake Griffin, who slammed in a dunk.