"Right now the Clippers are the 4th seed," Johnson tweeted, referring to their standing in the Western Conference. "If they can move up, I like their chances of making it to the Western Conference Finals."
The Lakers legend was alluding to the Clippers' avoiding a matchup that would entail them facing the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the second round. If the Clippers could overtake the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 3 seeding, they would likely face the Spurs in the second round, a matchup that Johnson apparently thinks would be more favorable to the Clippers.
Rivers went on to say he wasn't as concerned about where his team finishes as he was about continuing to win games and get all of his players back. Forward Blake Griffin is out until next month because of a broken hand and a four-game suspension for punching a team assistant equipment manager and guard Austin Rivers could return in about two weeks from a broken hand.
The Clippers seem almost locked into the No. 4 spot. They entered Saturday 3 1/2 games behind the Thunder and four games ahead of the fifth-place Memphis Grizzlies, who are expected to fade with center Marc Gasol expected to miss the rest of the season because of a broken foot.
Johnson hasn't always been so impressed by the Clippers. He poked them a bit last spring after they lost the final three games of conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
"I thought the Spurs taught the Clippers how to win after a tough 7 game series," Johnson tweeted. "I was wrong. The Clippers are still the Clippers."
Nine months later, Doc Rivers still remembered those words.
"The last tweet, I didn't like so much," he said. "Right now, he's on fire."
Feeling a draft
The Clippers completed their trade for Jeff Green only after agreeing to include a lottery-protected first-round draft pick, which didn't give Rivers pause.
"That one wasn't a tough one because the way we looked at it was it's protected," the coach said, "so if we're bad enough to be a lottery team we get the pick. That wasn't that awful for us."
The pick is lottery-protected in 2019 and 2020, becoming a second-round pick in 2022 if it is not conveyed in either of the first two years.
The Clippers have been as much onlookers as participants in the draft in recent years. They sent their 2015 first-round pick to Boston as compensation for Doc Rivers' leaving the Celtics and owe their 2017 first-round pick to Milwaukee as part of the Jared Dudley trade if the Clippers make the playoffs that season.
As expected, the Clippers signed forward Alex Stepheson to a 10-day contract. The former USC and Harvard-Westlake High star played in preseason games with the Memphis Grizzlies but had not appeared in an NBA regular-season game before playing the final 1:39 on Saturday against the Warriors.
Doc Rivers said the Clippers decided to sign Stepheson instead of adding backcourt depth because "we couldn't find a defensive guard that we were kind of looking for."
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch