CLIPPERS

Clippers get the Spurs and a first-round playoff test

The Clippers earn the No. 3 seed in West playoffs and draw defending champion Spurs

The Clippers might have nearly choked on their appetizers Wednesday evening when they sat down for a team dinner and contemplated the San Antonio Spurs trailing by 23 points in their regular-season finale.

A loss by San Antonio and victories by the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies would trigger what seemed like a worst-case scenario for the Clippers: a first-round playoff series against the defending NBA champion Spurs.

"You probably never want to play the Spurs in the first round if you had your choice," Clippers forward Blake Griffin acknowledged recently, "but there's a lot of great teams in the West."

The Clippers probably didn't regain their appetites after Houston polished off the Utah Jazz and the Spurs failed to complete a comeback against the New Orleans Pelicans, putting their playoff fate in the hands of Memphis.

When the Grizzlies held off the Indiana Pacers, a tricky matchup became official. The third-seeded Clippers will open the playoffs against the sixth-seeded Spurs on Sunday night at Staples Center.

The series will feature two of the NBA's hottest teams. The Clippers have won 14 of 15 games and the Spurs 14 of 16. The teams split their four regular-season meetings, though the Clippers won the last two.

When it comes to the teams' playoff pedigree, it's no contest. San Antonio has advanced to the Western Conference finals or NBA Finals in nine of the last 16 seasons; the Clippers have never made it past the second round in their 45 years of existence.

The Spurs swept the Clippers in four games in the conference semifinals in 2012.

The Clippers enter the playoffs with one of the top starting fives in the NBA but perhaps the most lackluster bench. The same reserves who helped the Clippers outscore the Phoenix Suns by 20 points in the second quarter Tuesday also helped squander most of a 30-point lead in the second half, forcing Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to reinsert his starters in the final three minutes.

Rivers said he wasn't worried about his underperforming reserves in the playoffs because they would always be on the court with at least one or two starters.

"What you've seen all year is five [reserves] on the floor," Rivers said Tuesday. "Everybody knows that's not going to happen in the playoffs. That's why I keep hearing about our bench and I'm like, we'll be fine."

Beyond Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford, who figures to log plenty of playing time, there probably will be only spot minutes for Austin Rivers, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Spencer Hawes and perhaps Lester Hudson.

"There's going to be some sacrifice because some guys aren't going to get the minutes they're used to or very many minutes at all," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said, "but we know our ultimate goal is to win a championship, so that's the sacrifice people have to make."

Rivers said his starters could handle playing heavier minutes than they had in the regular season because of longer timeouts during games and at least one day of rest between games.

"There will be a game that Chris Paul may have to play 44 minutes, and there will be a game where he can play 35," Rivers said. "You don't worry about it."

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they do have to fret about the Spurs.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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