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Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, center, shoots as Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack, left, and center Jeff Withey defend during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Jazz won 97-95. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

There are four Los Angeles Lakers statues in front of Staples Center: Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and a 9-foot, 1,200-pound hanging Shaquille O’Neal. Late Hall of Fame Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is featured on the sidewalk just off Chick Hearn Court. Former Los Angeles Kings hockey star Wayne Gretzky and boxer Oscar De La Hoya also have statues, and ex-Lakers star Kobe Bryant is likely next in line.

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When it comes to the playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers’ history is short and not at all sweet.

The once-beleaguered franchise has never made it past the second round, and in two of the last three years under coach Doc Rivers they’ve blown comfortable series leads and ended up going home.

At least they’re going to open these playoffs at home, and given the team’s recent history, that’s no small thing.

Neither is the momentum they’re riding.

The Clippers won seven in a row and 11 of 13 to end the regular season. They clinched home court for the first round against Utah six months after starting the season as the NBA’s hottest team at 14-2.

“This really could be their year,” Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said. “They could really do something. They’re in a rhythm, they’re playing well.”

The Clippers have shown maturity down the stretch, seizing home court after the Jazz put the pressure on by winning on Wednesday night. The Clippers had to beat the Kings to end up tied with Utah at 51-31, and they owned the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1.

“This team has grown a lot,” Blake Griffin said. “Maybe more than any other season that we have had here.”

The Clippers survived a combined 42 games without Griffin and Chris Paul, going 19-23 in their absence. Their worst stretch was a six-game skid between Christmas and New Year’s and they responded by starting the new year on a seven-game winning streak, equaling their longest of the season.


“When you have as many injuries as we did, the ups and downs of the season, the length of the season, you go through a lot of adversity,” Griffin said. “You always say that when we come out on the other side we are going to be better for it, and I truly believe that we are.”

The Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan are in their sixth season together and still in pursuit of their first title.

Their sense of urgency may never be greater.

Paul and Griffin are in the final year of their contracts, which include player options for 2017-18. Jordan has a year remaining, with a player option for 2018-19.

A year ago, the Clippers owned a 2-0 lead against Portland in the first round only to lose in six games after injuries to Paul and Griffin.

In 2015, they gave up a 3-1 lead against Houston and blew a 19-point lead in Game 6 with a trip to the Western Conference finals on the line. In 2014, Paul had an infamous meltdown, twice turning the ball over and fouling Russell Westbrook, who made three straight free throws to beat the Clippers by one point in Game 5 of the conference semifinals. They lost Game 6 back at home.

In fact, the Clippers have lost at least once at home in their last six playoff appearances.

“Because of the experiences we’ve had, I think we’re concentrating on finishing,” Paul said. “Trying not to have those different lapses in games. That’s probably where we’ve showed a little bit of growth and we won’t really be able to tell until the playoffs.”

Heading into Saturday’s playoff opener, the Clippers are healthy, with the exception of backup guard Austin Rivers, who missed the final six games with a strained left hamstring. He could return soon.

Despite their recent failures, Doc Rivers insists he never goes into a new playoff series thinking about the past.

“Does that mean there’s no residual effect?” he asked. “I can’t say.”

While they can’t change their painful past, they recognize it and clearly want to get past it.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Jamal Crawford, three-time Sixth Man of the Year. “Ultimately, we’ll be one of the teams judged on our postseason success, so we’re ready for it.”



Before the 2016-2017 NBA season arrived in full force, it was clear that the Golden State Warriors were going to be the biggest story of the campaign. That comes with the territory after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets have captured quite a bit of attention as a result of James Harden’s MVP-worthy performance. The San Antonio Spurs are, well, the San Antonio Spurs, and even the Utah Jazz are (finally) coming into their own as a legitimate contender for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

But much of the NBA world has simply forgotten about the Los Angeles Clippers. As early April arrives, the Clippers are locked into a fight with the Jazz for homecourt in what appears to be a likely first-round clash between two contrasting teams, but a closer look indicates that Los Angeles isn’t a team that should be ignored when the playoffs finally materialize.

Chris Paul remains one of the best players (not just point guards) in the NBA and his impact is undeniable. With their All-Star point guard in the lineup this season, the Clippers are a robust 39-18 and that places Doc Rivers’ team on a 56-win pace for the campaign. When Paul sits, though, the Clippers are just 8-13 and that helps to explain why many people appear to be down on the team in a large-scale sense.

Still, a closer look indicates that, at full strength, the Clippers are as dangerous as ever. Few teams outside of the Warriors can match a four-man nucleus of Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and sharp-shooter J.J. Redick, and Los Angeles has quietly been not quite as ugly around the edges this season.

Even with the 21-game absence for Paul and another 21 games (!!!) on the shelf for Griffin, the Clippers boast the sixth-best net rating (+3.7) in the NBA. That number jumps considerably when Rivers is provided with a full complement of options.

Are the Clippers likely to unseat the Warriors in a potential second-round battle? Well, no. However, that has (much) more to do with a brutal match-up situation for Los Angeles than it does with the team being unworthy as a legitimate Western Conference contender.For better or worse, Golden State’s talent is just that tantalizing. The Clippers will have more than a few interesting decisions to make in the offseason but in the midst of what many seem to characterize as a “lost year”, this is actually a very good basketball team. Again.

Where do the Clippers stand when compared to the rest of the NBA as the regular season winds to a close? Let’s find out.


LOS ANGELES – Take off 14 games and more than a month of basketball, and certain aspects of the game that typically come second-nature may not look as crisp as normal.

Head coach Doc Rivers said before Friday’s game and the return of Chris Paul, who came back a week earlier than initially anticipated from a torn left thumb ligament, ball-handling is typically the hardest trait to return when a player misses a significant amount of time.

Even for a player with the handles of Paul, as the ball bounced off his foot and out of bounds early against the Spurs, it appeared that thought rang true, and Paul agreed.

“Ball-handling, playing with a splint,” Paul said, as he began to list the most challenging parts of the game to get back, before stopping himself short as his competitiveness took over. “It’s no excuses. I’m going to figure it out. I’m cool.”

Paul, returning five weeks after the start of his initial six-to-eight-week recovery timeframe from surgery, finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in the 105-97 loss to the Spurs, using mostly his non-injured right hand to do what he always does. He stripped the ball twice to come up with two steals, including one that led to a transition bucket for Blake Griffin as the Clippers tried to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit against the Spurs.

Rivers said there were times where Paul’s time off was obvious, much in the same way as Griffin’s first game back from an 18-game hiatus following his knee surgery earlier this year.

“We were moving, but we just weren’t really in sync,” Rivers said. “You kind of knew that would happen a little bit.”

But Paul and the Clippers still had plenty of chances to earn their third win of the season against the Spurs. They just couldn’t finish off the opportunities presented to them.

“We did miss open shots, but we still didn’t play good offense,” Rivers said.

Not that Griffin thought that was Paul’s doing.

Even while it might take time to, as Griffin put it, “re-familiarize” with a player, Griffin said Paul’s style makes it simple to adjust to his return.

“He’s pretty easy to play with,” Griffin said. “It came down to the fight in the second half. We had a stretch of maybe five minutes or so, I don’t know how long it was total, that we didn’t execute the things we need to execute.”

Kawhi Leonard picked up his third foul early in the third quarter, yet it was that quarter when the Clippers watched their lead dwindle until the Spurs chipped away enough that they led heading to the fourth.

When the Clippers worked their way close again in the fourth, an untimely turnover (the Clippers committed 12, which the Spurs turned into 20 points) or a missed 3-pointer (the Clippers went 7-for-23 behind the arc, and sharpshooter J.J. Redick went 2-for-8 from 3-point range) prevented them from getting close enough to threaten San Antonio’s late advantage.

The Clippers never got within a possession of the Spurs’ lead in the fourth.

“It felt good to get through the whole game,” Paul said. “But we couldn’t get stops.”

Paul said he came out unscathed, but all that matters to him is how the Clippers did as a team. He did his best not to think about his injured thumb, and he was hoping it would take no time to regroup as he worked his way back.

Even with the loss – the Clippers’ second straight following the All-Star break – and even with the Clippers having missed Paul and Griffin for 20-plus games apiece this season, the Clippers still find themselves going back and forth with the Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference.

As they “re-familiarize” themselves with Paul, that’s not the worst place to be.

“I would take it,” Rivers said before the game. “Listen, you look at the injuries and our record, I think there’s not a coach in the league that wouldn’t take our record right now, so that’s been all good. Would’ve been nicer to have them, but I think and I’m hoping that all this will mean something great for us later.”

LOS ANGELES – The Clippers (35-23) had a chance to beat the Spurs (44-13) for the third time this season, but the momentum shifted late in the third quarter and the Clippers could never get it back, falling to San Antonio for the first time this season.

Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 105-97 loss.

Quote of the Night: “It was tough to watch, because you could see it – you could see us out of rhythm, out of sync offensively… We did miss open shots, but we still didn’t play good offense.” – Head coach Doc Rivers

1) Chris Paul returns – Paul made his return to the court after missing 14 games recovering from surgery to repair a torn left thumb ligament, which he suffered Jan. 16 against the Thunder. Rivers said because it wasn’t a lower body injury, Paul has managed to stay “in pretty good shape,” able to run shortly after the surgery. He’s been back practicing since the Clippers returned from the All-Star break, and he felt good enough to go Friday night.

Rivers said ball-handling and timing are always the hardest things to get back after a long hiatus, and there were some elements of that, with Paul one time dribbling off his foot out of bounds. But Paul was also doing what he always does, with his active hands creating two steals to go with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.

2) Austin takes over early – Doc Rivers was asked before the game about the adjustment for Austin Rivers in his return to the bench, and he said “you never know” how a player will handle that, but Paul wanted to make sure Austin stayed aggressive. That wasn’t a problem Friday, with Austin scoring 15 points in his first 12 minutes off the bench, giving the Clippers a second-quarter lead and putting them in control at the time. Austin’s 20 points through three quarters made him the game’s leading scorer at the time. He finished with 23 of the Clippers’ 31 points off the bench.

3) Missed opportunities in defeat – After a late third-quarter Spurs surge, it was still anybody’s game heading to the fourth quarter. San Antonio stayed on the pedal, but the Clippers hung around. There were just too many missed opportunities to make a final push. In the first half, the Clippers didn’t score any points off the Spurs’ 10 turnovers. By game’s end, the Clippers scored just 11 points off the Spurs’ 15 turnovers, while the Spurs scored 20 points off the Clippers’ 12 turnovers.

Early in the third, Kawhi Leonard picked up his fifth foul, yet by the end of the quarter the Spurs still managed to take the lead. When the Clippers cut it close late, more turnovers and good looks from deep that didn’t go down prevented a fourth-quarter comeback.

4) Struggles from deep, rebounding – By halftime, both teams were shooting exactly 41.5 percent, but the Spurs led by going 7-for-14 from 3-point range. The Clippers did a better job protecting the 3-point line in the second half, but they couldn’t get going themselves from long range. J.J. Redick had a couple opportunities to give the Clippers a late spark on good looks from behind the arc, but finished 2-for-8 from 3-point range. The Clippers as a team went 7-for-23 from long distance and were outrebounded by 15.

5) Griffin in attack mode – As the Clippers tried to mount a late comeback, Blake Griffin continued to attack the rim, at one point resulting in a bleeding face on a drive into the lane. Griffin ran to the locker room, got taped up, then came back to the court for his free throws. Griffin scored 23 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, also adding nine rebounds and five assists and going 11-for-11 from the line.

What’s Next? – The Clippers host the Hornets on Sunday.

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LOS ANGELES – Clippers point guard Chris Paul will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, likely forcing him out for the next six to eight weeks.

Paul, who will undergo surgery Wednesday, left Monday’s game against the Thunder with a sprained left thumb and didn’t return. Initial X-rays showed no break, but further tests Tuesday morning revealed the tear, which occurred after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg in the second quarter.

Paul went around a Joffrey Lauvergne screen while chasing Westbrook, who jumped into Paul while attempting to draw a foul on a 3-point attempt. Immediately after the play, a frustrated Paul walked straight to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell.

Head coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t see the injury as it happened, but he knew the kind of injury Paul sustained from playing the position and seeing Paul favor his left hand after the play.

“That’s the one injury we get,” Rivers said Monday night. “You know the pain. I’m sure CP was thinking the worst at the time. He’s already got pretty good news with the normal X-ray being negative. You’ve just got to hope for the best.”

Unfortunately, the news wasn’t positive.

That was obvious to most of Paul’s teammates, who remember the point guard walking off the court in a similarly solemn fashion last postseason when he fractured his right hand in Portland.

J.J. Redick said the real worry set in when Paul didn’t return for the second half.

“I’ve seen Chris go off before and he tries to play,” Redick said immediately after Monday’s win. “I’m not assuming the worst by any means, but I recognize there’s probably a good chance he’s out a game or two, best case. “Worst case… we’ll deal with that.”

The procedure will be performed by Dr. Steve Shin, and Paul will continue to undergo treatment and evaluation by the Clippers’ medical staff.

Paul was averaging 17.8 points, 12.3 assists and six rebounds per game in January and had eight points, six assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes before the injury. Monday’s game against Oklahoma City was Paul’s fifth game back from a strained left hamstring, which forced him out for seven games.

The Clippers are 26-9 this year with Paul in the lineup and 2-5 when he’s out, though they were also without Blake Griffin throughout that time.

On the bright side on the injury front, Griffin’s picked up his rehab and is working out on the court as he reaches the beginning of his four-to-six-week recovery from a right knee procedure.

“Blake’s going to be back soon,” Redick said. “Next guy up, I guess. We’ve kind of dealt with this quite a bit lately, and we’ll continue to plug away.”

Rivers said Griffin “feels wonderful” and “looks like he’s explosive again” as he watches the power forward work out. There’s no set date yet for Griffin’s return, but it becomes even more crucial with the latest news on Paul.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers both saw their minutes increase when Paul was on the shelf with the hamstring strain, and that’s likely to occur again.

“It’s tough,” Austin Rivers said. “We just have to keep attacking and keep moving forward. I know we can keep this win streak going.”

LOS ANGELES – A nine-point second-half lead evaporated against the Pelicans (13-21), health and a last-minute comeback attempt fell a shot short, search as the Clippers (22-12) dropped their fourth straight game.

Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 102-98 loss.

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LOS ANGELES – Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been named ESPN’s second annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year for his impact using the power of sports to make a positive impact on society.

Paul and his family have dedicated themselves to helping children as much as possible and “evening the playing field” wherever possible, regardless where that child grows up, through the Chris Paul Family Foundation.

“It hit me that it’s not fair,” Paul said while opening a newly refurbished Boys & Girls Club in Watts. “It’s not fair that a kid on this side of town doesn’t have the same opportunities as a kid on the other side of town.”

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