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The CW (Clipper Weekly): Fight to the Finish
Current Record: 37-39, T-3rd Pacific, T-8th West
The Clippers entered the week with the opportunity to take control of their playoff fate and to put themselves in the drivers’ seat for one of the three remaining playoff spots. This morning, they are left still in control of their destiny, but very much in a fight for survival.
Things started well with a narrow victory over the Lakers on Wednesday, piling on to their co-tenants’ recent woes, and continuing the Clips’ overall strong play. And for most of Saturday’s game against Denver, the team appeared to making a statement about their legitimacy as the strongest of these final playoff contenders. With EB doing his thing down on the block, Corey getting to the line at will, and Kaman sending Denver shots back, the Clips took an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. A Clipper win seemed all but certain, given that the team came in with a 31-2 record when ahead after three quarters.
Yes, that’s 31-2.
But during a twelve-minute stretch which could potentially define their season, the Clips saw it all slip through their fingers. The jump shots that were going in all game started finding iron. And in a nightmare scenario, Allen Iverson, the guy who LAist had clamored the front office to trade for, went off, singlehandedly outscoring the Clips 15-11 over a nine-minute stretch, getting the Nuggets back to a tie game with under a minute to play.
Nevertheless, the Clippers were in position to win after a Brand putback gave them a two-point lead with 43 seconds left. But in a finish eerily reminiscent of their lone loss over the previous two weeks against Houston, unheralded scrub Linas Kleiza made a go-ahead three-pointer (his only field goal of the game) from the corner. Maggette was then stripped by AI on the other end on a potential game-winning drive, and that was all she wrote.
Insult to injury was added when the Clippers had to travel to Dallas last night and take on the best team in the NBA on their court. Playing shorthanded not only without Cassell and Livingston, but also Tim Thomas, who sprained his wrist on an awkward fall against Denver, the Clips simply didn’t have the firepower to run with the Mavs. The loss dropped the Clippers into a tie with the Warriors for the final playoff spot.
Analysis of the Western Conference playoff race after the jump...
Quick Take/Playoff Push:
With only a week and a half to go, every night is going to be important in determining who earns the final three spots in the Western Conference. Here is a quick rundown of the remaining schedules of the Clippers and their main contenders. LAist will be checking in daily the rest of the way to keep you informed, including updates on the most pivotal team: the Sacramento Kings. They play four of the five contenders and have a major chance to be the proverbial spoiler.
#6 Denver (41-36): at Utah (48-29), at New Orleans/Oklahoma City (36-41), at Memphis (19-59), vs. Minnesota (32-45), at San Antonio (56-21)
The Nuggets have caught fire at the right time with a six-game winning streak, including three wins against the LA teams over the last week to distance themselves from the pack. Though arguably the seventh seed is a more favorable draw (Phoenix instead of San Antonio), Denver is happy to finally be living up to the potential that was forecast after making the AI trade. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, but likely wins against Memphis and Minnesota should be enough to lock down the #6 spot since the Nuggets hold the tiebreakers over both the Lakers and Clippers.
#7 Lakers (40-38): vs. Clippers (38-39), at Phoenix (58-19), vs. Seattle (31-47), at Sacramento (31-45)
The Lakers are on the other extreme as the Nuggets, falling faster than Britney's Q-rating, losing four out of five. Kobe is finding it lonely without any consistent frontcourt help, and Smush Parker is causing a stir because he thinks he merits playing time, despite the fact that he sucks. The last two should be winnable games, but if the Lakers don't get this next one against the Clippers, they could be facing the huge negative momentum of a potentially unthinkable collapse, given that they aren't likely to beat Phoenix with the Suns still playing for homecourt in the second round. I can only imagine the insanity at Arco Arena next Wednesday if the Kings have the chance to exercise (and exorcise) their inferiority complex and knock their despised rivals out of the playoffs.
#8 Warriors (38-40): at Sacramento (31-45), vs. Minnesota (32-45), vs. Dallas (64-13), at Portland (31-46)
The Warriors have really played some good ball since getting their full roster back, running teams off the court literally with the fast-paced Nellie ball in full effect. They have the easiest schedule of the contenders, with none of their upcoming opponents likely to put up a huge fight: the Mavs will be resting their stars for the playoffs and the other teams will be tanking to secure a better draft position. The Warriors lose the tiebreaker to the Lakers on head-to-head, but will win the tiebreaker with the Clippers on better conference record. Definitely something to keep in mind.
Clippers (37-39, 0 GB): at New Orleans/Oklahoma City (36-41), at Lakers (39-34), vs. Portland (31-46), vs. Sacramento (31-45), at Phoenix (58-19), vs. New Orleans/Oklahoma City (36-41)
One game at a time for the Clips. With six games in nine days (seven in ten if you count last night), the Clippers will be tested, including three games against fellow contenders. They are playing together as well as they have at any point this season, with Corey and Cat Mobley doing a great job creating scoring for others as well as themselves. Jason Hart is playing far better than could have been expected. Can they continue to get balanced contributions on the offensive end? Does EB have it in him to carry the team like he did down the stretch last year? With Thomas' injury (though he's going to try to play), do they have enough frontcourt depth to defend the paint and rebound effectively? The answers start coming tonight against the Hornets.
New Orleans/Oklahoma City (36-41, 1.5 GB): vs. LA Clippers (37-39), vs. Denver (41-36), at Houston (49-29), at Sacramento (31-45), at LA Clippers (37-39)
The Hornets seemed dead a week ago, but winning four out of five has propelled them back to the fringes of the race. Because they get two more games with the Clippers, they still are very much alive if they win out and can get some help from whomever's playing Golden St. The fact that they are still alive despite having significant injuries to their entire rotation is a testament to their toughness. Still, with Des Mason now out for the season alongside Peja Stojakovic, and Tyson Chandler pretty iffy with a bruised toe, Chris Paul will have to be a monster for them to pull off this stretch. The Clips can finish them off tonight.
AP photo by Donna McWilliam