OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Relaxed, relieved and ready to resume their championship chase, the Los Angeles Clippers tried to get back some sense of normalcy Wednesday after a week unlike any other in NBA history.
At least as normal as things can get right now.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the chaos caused by owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks is still far from over. And while NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling from the league for life and asked owners to force a sale of the franchise, Rivers said plenty of uncertainty will remain until a change is complete.
”We’re not through this. We’re still in it,” Rivers said on a conference call with reporters, again shielding his players from the spotlight of the media that surely would’ve swarmed the team’s practice facility.
Rivers has always told players to avoid outside clutter – ”keep your boxes empty,” he often says – no matter the issue. Now Rivers wants his team to welcome the challenge of overcoming all the noise.
The Clippers can start by taking another step forward on the court when they try to eliminate the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 on Thursday night in Oakland. Los Angeles leads the first-round series 3-2 and is on the brink of just its third playoff-series victory since Sterling bought the franchise in 1981.
”Like I told my guys, this is going to be with us,” Rivers said. ”Let’s just keep winning and let’s deal with it. But it’s not going anywhere, and you just got to embrace that, that this is part of this year’s playoffs for us.
”We don’t have a manuscript or a rule book on how to deal with each issue that’s going to come up,” he said. ”There will be more issues that we don’t know about. Guys, we just got to try to keep our focus as much as we can. And if anybody is struggling with that, I told them to just let me know and we can find a way to deal with it individually.”
While questions still remain – notably how Sterling will respond to the league’s ruling – Rivers said not much has changed with the team’s day-to-day operations. He is still overseeing the basketball side and, as far as he knows, team President Andy Roeser is running the business operations.
”The league is working through the rest,” said Rivers, who added that he would not be among the long list of suitors lining up to buy the team.
Sterling was fined $2.5 million Tuesday – the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution – after audio recordings surfaced on TMZ and Deadspin over the weekend of him telling a female companion not to bring black people to games or post pictures with them online. Silver also urged the NBA’s board of governors to compel Sterling to sell the Clippers, and if three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree, the league’s longest-tenured owner almost certainly will be forced to give up the team.
Players said the ruling providing some relief, and it showed in the Clippers’ 113-103 win over the Warriors on Tuesday night when they got back to the free and spirited style that carried them to 57 wins and a second straight Pacific Division title.
”It just seemed like a burden lifted off of everybody and we could just get back to basketball and worry about what we needed to worry about,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said his players have been just as drained the past five days by the Sterling scandal. But he downplayed the impact the ruling had on either team.
”We don’t want an excuse, but it obviously, I don’t like the way we competed. And that wasn’t us for whatever reason,” Jackson said.
Focus will be the key for both teams again.
The Warriors have won 16 of their past 19 home games against the Clippers, including a 118-97 whipping Sunday after the Sterling saga began. But star Stephen Curry, who scored 17 points in the first quarter alone in that game, is coming off one of his most perplexing playoff performances.
Curry had a career-high eight turnovers and attempted just 10 shots – making five of them – in Game 5 in Los Angeles. He finished with 17 points and four assists, but he was glad to be back in Oakland on Wednesday and away from all the distractions.
”I think we’ll be able to play free enough to just go out and have fun and make plays and understand if we play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be all right,” Curry said.
Playing on the road might not be all bad for the Clippers, either. The game allows the team to escape the attention in Los Angeles, Rivers said, and put the focus back on basketball.
”As far as things being back to normal, I doubt that that is true,” Rivers said. ”But I did feel like once the game started and the game went on, we were back to playing basketball as a group.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this story.