It almost seemed too bad that it had to end. The Clippers closed the regular season playing their best basketball, stretching their winning streak to seven games with a 112-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night at US Airways Center. The Clippers have also won 14 of their last 15 games and will enter the playoffs as one of the NBA’s hottest teams. Here are five takeaways from their triumph over the Suns:
1. The short wait begins for playoff clarity.
The Clippers know they will be seeded No. 2 or No. 3 in the Western Conference when the playoffs begin this weekend. They also know they will be playing at home. Everything else remains in flux.
There are still four possible first-round opponents. If San Antonio and Houston both lose in their regular-season finales Wednesday night, the Clippers would be the second seed. If either the Spurs or Rockets win -- or both teams win -- the Clippers would be the third seed.
Coach Doc Rivers said team members will gather to watch the final games and learn their opponent in the first round.
2. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul talked it out.
The Clippers stars held an animated discussion on the court in the final seconds of the first half before Paul walked away. They both said it was over missed opportunities that could have helped increase an already sizable lead.
Their coach viewed it as a sign of two high-level players seeking perfection. “I don’t mind at all,” Rivers said. “I hate when stuff goes unsaid. They were upset at one of the plays; Blake was more upset with himself. It’s nice. We’re up huge and they’re mad at a miscommunicated play. I kind of like that. I would say a year ago if anyone got upset at a play or something, no one talked to each other. This group has really grown. That’s where I keep saying we’re just so much better and that gives you a chance, it really does. And in the West, all you can ask for is a chance because everybody has a chance.”
3. The Clippers’ bench that helped giveth their team a big lead also helped taketh it away.
The same group that helped the Clippers outscore the Suns, 37-17, in the second quarter also helped squander most of a 30-point lead in the second half, forcing Rivers to reinsert his starters in the final three minutes.
There was some offensive production supplied by unexpected sources, however. Spencer Hawes scored 13 points in his first memorable performance in what seemed like months, and veteran guard Lester Hudson had 11 points in 20 minutes, his playing time on the uptick with backup guard Austin Rivers sidelined by a sinus infection.
4. The Clippers have won at least 56 games for a third consecutive season.
It may seem difficult to consider that “sustained excellence” and “Clippers” belong in the same sentence these days, but they certainly do. The Clippers (56-26) are headed to the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth consecutive season after finishing one victory short of the franchise record they had established last season.
5. Now the real season begins.
Rivers and several of his players said there was an assumption in the locker room this season that the Clippers would make it to this stage; now it’s time to see what they can do there. Will they attain leading-man status by making it to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history or go down as another oh-so-close-but-yet-so-far bunch?