LOS ANGELES — As the Indiana Pacers continue their push for home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers need one last run of success to extend the season at least a few games.
The Pacers will bring a four-game win streak into Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, looking to go 3-0 on their swing through California if they can top the Clippers. Indiana already has victories over the Warriors and Kings.
The Clippers have a tough task ahead to extend the season into the playoffs. They are in ninth place in the Western Conference, two games behind the Jazz and the Pelicans, who are tied for the final two playoff spots.
The Clippers have six games remaining to make up their deficit, and five of those are home games, including the season finale April 11 against the Lakers. A telling clash against the Pelicans awaits April 9 at Staples Center.
“Every game is do-or-die for us,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan told the Los Angeles Times. “Every game we drop, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for us to extend our season. We still got a chance and I think we’re still optimistic in this locker room. But we’ve got to take care of business. We can’t afford to put together 40 minutes of basketball or even 45. We’ve got to put together a full 48 minutes of effort on both ends of the floor.”
The Pacers appear to have the same determination, even if their goal is slightly different. With their spot in the playoffs secure, they have taken aim at the fourth-place Sixers, who are without Joel Embiid.
The Pacers are one-half game behind the Sixers in the Eastern Conference, knowing they own the tiebreaker to grab the No. 4 seed. Coach Nate McMillan’s team has shown that it is immune to pressure, going 11-1 in games decided by three points or fewer, including a three-point victory at Sacramento on Thursday.
“I think when you look at the job that Nate McMillan is doing, and you look at some of the candidates for Coach of the Year, I would definitely put him up there with Quin Snyder, Terry Stotts, Dwane Casey — obviously, Mike D’Antoni’s done a terrific job,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “But great coaching, tremendous team they’ve got over there.”
In many respects, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has also put in one of his better coaching jobs this season. The Clippers have been a revolving door of injuries all season. By January, all five of their Opening Night starters had missed significant time.
In typical Clippers fashion, forward Danilo Gallinari finally returned this week from a non-displaced fracture in his right hand, while point guard Milos Teodosic was lost with a torn plantar fascia. Also out is guard Jawun Evans (sports hernia).
“Obviously, we have to keep winning to get them back,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Pacers forward Trevor Booker, who has been dealing with an ankle injury since Tuesday, remains day-to-day.